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Knesset legal adviser hedges on bill to block Netanyahu premiership

Eyal Yinon says no new legislation may be submitted until parliament sworn in later this month, but Blue and White hadn’t planned on lodging proposal before then

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon attends a Knesset committee meeting on June 6, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon attends a Knesset committee meeting on June 6, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Wednesday said no legislation may be passed until a new parliament is sworn in, hours after the Blue and White party said it was seeking to quickly advance a law that would prevent an indicted prime minister from serving, effectively disqualifying Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“As a rule, the government plenum and committees do not convene during the two weeks between elections and the gathering of the new Knesset. As for private legislation, it is not possible during this period,” Yinon said in a statement.

His comments came hours after Blue and White confirmed it was working on getting a majority to support a law that would prevent a premier facing criminal charges from assuming the country’s highest office.

It was unclear how Yinon’s statement related to the Blue and White initiative, as party leader Benny Gantz reportedly planned to file the draft law only after the new Knesset is sworn in on March 16.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Netanyahu’s criminal trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges begins a day later, on March 17.

Blue and White leader Gantz proposed such a law after the September election, but it was blocked at the time by Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman. However, Liberman could support it this time, according to a senior source who has spoken with Liberman about the matter.

After more than 99 percent of the votes were tallied, Likud and its allies had 58 seats combined. The right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu — consisting of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina — thus fell short of the 61 seats needed to form a government, and its rivals seem certain to hold a majority in the next Knesset.

While the combination of the centrist Blue and White, the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu, the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the predominantly Arab Joint List — which together have a majority in the parliament — have virtually no chance of coming together to form a government, what they do have in common is opposition to Netanyahu’s continued rule.

Monday’s election was largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who will go on trial in two weeks for bribery, fraud and breach of trust but is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.

A similar law that would have ousted a premier facing an indictment was supported by Netanyahu himself in 2008, when Ehud Olmert was facing corruption charges, Hebrew-language media reported. The law didn’t pass, but Olmert resigned before the charges were filed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after first exit poll results for the elections at his party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The law was also reportedly backed at the time by members of Netanyahu’s current bloc, including United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman and the prime minister’s Likud primary challenger last year, MK Gideon Sa’ar.

Apart from Blue and White, senior members of Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List on Wednesday voiced support for the law, while Yisrael Beytenu officially kept mum.

But a senior Yisrael Beytenu official familiar with internal deliberations told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that Liberman and his party would support the law.

“Liberman didn’t support this law until now,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “Netanyahu hadn’t been indicted and he didn’t want to put the cart before the horse like Blue and White and get embarrassed later, and he didn’t want legislation that would intervene in the voters’ choice.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman at the party headquarters in Modiin,on election night, March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90)

“Now the situation is different, there is an indictment — and there is an urgent need to prevent Netanyahu from continuing to dissolve the Knesset again and again and plunge Israel into fourth elections.”

The official expressed hope that the law would make a unity government possible, since Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu say they are willing to join politically with Likud, but not with Netanyahu at its head.

“Since Blue and White, Labor and the Joint List will support this law, it has 62 backers,” he concluded. “Checkmate.”

Yisrael Beytenu refused to officially comment on the report.

The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz tweeted Wednesday that the law was “politically and morally justified and reflects the will of most voters.” He added: “Let’s go for it with everything we’ve got.”

His party member Itzik Shmuli said he was on board, adding: “It’s time for our political camp to also seek decisive victory.”

While the Joint List hasn’t officially commented on the matter, its MK Ahmad Tibi told 103FM Radio Wednesday that “I estimate that [supporting it] will be our direction.”

Members of Netanyahu’s bloc reacted with outrage to the initiative.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett on Twitter called it “an anti-democratic move, spitting in the face of half the country.” He added: “Two days ago there were elections, and already they are trying to bypass the people’s will through illegitimate means.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri said such a law would be a “disgrace” and break the “rules of the political game.” He lambasted Blue and White for being “willing to sacrifice the benefit of the country and the people’s unity on the altar of personal hate toward Netanyahu.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev, of Likud, accused Gantz of “succumbing to Tibi’s pressure” and starting an “attempted coup.”

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