Edelstein to remain interim Knesset speaker until new government sworn in

Edelstein to remain interim Knesset speaker until new government sworn in

Blue and White wants to replace Likud nominee with its member Meir Cohen to increase chances of successful legislation of policies if Gantz becomes prime minister

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks to new lawmakers ahead of the swearing-in ceremony for the 21st Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks to new lawmakers ahead of the swearing-in ceremony for the 21st Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel’s 22nd Knesset will be sworn in on Thursday in a ceremony almost identical to the swearing in of the 21st Knesset just five months earlier. Not only will the pomp and circumstance of the parliament’s first day back be similar, but almost all of the MKs from the outgoing parliament will be returning, with the incoming crop including just 17 lawmakers freshly elected in September’s election, a record low.

One notable difference, however, and perhaps the most significant, will be the absence of a vote confirming the identity of the speaker who will preside over the 22nd Knesset.

Instead of voting to re-elect Yuli Edelstein for a fourth term immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, as was done for his third term in April, the vote will be postponed until after the government is sworn in, Knesset officials confirmed to The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

With the makeup of the next government still unknown due to the political deadlock in the wake of September’s election, which saw Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties almost evenly matched and neither bloc with a viable path to a majority, Edelstein will serve as acting speaker in the interim days, weeks or months between the swearing in of the Knesset and the government.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein presides over a Knesset plenum session, on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Until 2012, the Knesset speaker would automatically end his role with the inauguration of the new Knesset. From the inauguration of the Knesset to the establishment of a government, the person who served as a temporary speaker was the “Knesset elder,” the longest serving MK. A change in the law, however, means that the previous speaker now serves as interim chair of the Knesset until a new speaker is elected, which must take place by the swearing-in of the new government.

“In 2015 and April 2019, Edelstein was elected at the Knesset inauguration because it was clear that a government would be formed and that he had wall-to-wall support. This time, as is well known, the political situation is different, so it is assessed in the political system that the choice of the speaker will come along with the swearing-in of the government,” a spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office said.

Blue and White parliament member Meir Cohen speaks during a Knesset discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, May 29, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The decision to postpone the vote comes after reports that Blue and White intends to replace Edelstein as speaker with a candidate from within the party, former welfare minister Meir Cohen, if the centrist faction heads the next government. Party sources said that if Blue and White leader Benny Gantz becomes the next prime minister, they fear a Knesset speaker loyal to his rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could thwart their legislative agenda.

Responding to the decision to postpone the vote on the speaker, Blue and White told The Times of Israel, “As the largest party in the Knesset, Blue and White has yet to decide which positions it will ask to obtain in the 22nd Knesset.”

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