Knesset freezes votes until Monday, giving Netanyahu more time to swear in coalition

Lawmakers nix this week’s remaining plenum sessions, meaning government can be sworn in as late as January 2; Netanyahu still must tell Herzog he’s formed a coalition by Wednesday

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with his expected defense minister Yoav Gallant in the Knesset on December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with his expected defense minister Yoav Gallant in the Knesset on December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin announced Tuesday that the Knesset would be halting all legislative activity in the plenum until next Monday, which will effectively buy expected incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu more time to swear in his coalition.

Netanyahu has until Wednesday night to notify President Isaac Herzog that he has put together a government. He is not poised, though, to be able by then to finalize three legislative changes demanded by his far-right and ultra-Orthodox political partners as conditions for swearing in the government.

While he will still need to inform the president that he has formed the government by Wednesday night, the Knesset freeze — apparently agreed upon by both the incoming opposition and coalition — will mean Netanyahu does not need to swear it in for almost two more weeks, until January 2. This would extend his legislative runway to finalize the demanded laws before swearing in his government.

After informing Herzog that he has sealed the deal with his far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners to form a government, Netanyahu must also notify the Knesset speaker, according to Section 13 of Israel’s Basic Law: The Government. Levin, a close Netanyahu ally and a lawmaker for his Likud party, then must inform the Knesset, which can only happen if the Knesset plenum convenes. After informing the Knesset, which will now be delayed until Monday’s next legislative session, Levin must convene the plenum within seven days to swear in the government.

“Of course, Netanyahu can schedule the [swearing-in] vote for an earlier date, for example Wednesday or Thursday” of next week, said Assaf Shapira, director of the political reform program at the Israel Democracy Institute.

By bumping the next legislative session to Monday, instead of Wednesday and Thursday, Levin effectively bought Netanyahu a few more days to apply legislative pressure, though this comes at the expense of not being able to advance the laws for the next five days.

Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with MK Yariv Levin during Levin’s election as Knesset speaker, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The incoming opposition apparently agreed to the deal as part of its strategy of slowing down the legislative process in hopes of exacerbating tension among the incoming coalition’s parties.

While this buys Netanyahu more time to deliver on legislation to his partners, it also forces Netanyahu to secure their sign-off on announcing a government before the legislation is finalized, since Wednesday’s session is canceled.

Demanded by presumed next police minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a bill to formalize political control over the police force advanced past its first reading on Tuesday afternoon. It will return to a special committee on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for its second and third — final — readings, which could be held as early as Monday.

A second bill to satisfy coalition partners Bezalel Smotrich and Aryeh Deri will also continue to be debated by a second committee on Wednesday and Thursday, in hopes of a Monday vote. This bill would change the Basic Law: The Government in order to appoint Smotrich as a minister in charge of West Bank settlement building in the Defense Ministry and to enable Deri to become interior and health minister, despite his recent suspended sentence for tax fraud, which, though the law is murky, currently bars him from being appointed a minister.

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