3/3 for vote 3: Knesset legal adviser sets March 3 for possible third elections

Israel will go to unprecedented third vote in less than a year unless political parties manage to break deadlock by December 11

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)

The Knesset’s top legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said Friday that elections will be held on March 3 if Israelis go to the polls for a third time in less than a year, as appears increasingly likely.

“Make a note — if there are no developments, we are preparing for elections on Tuesday, March 3, 2020,” Yinon said in a speech at a legal conference.

“As professionals in the field, we are also preparing for the announcement Tuesday night of a unity government and legislative assessments are underway for all possibilities,” he said.

The statement came a day after the director of the Central Elections Committee warned that the panel is currently unprepared if the Knesset doesn’t meet the December 11 deadline for at least 61 lawmakers to agree on an MK who would form a government and end the political deadlock.

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas during a press conference at the Knesset on December 5, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We don’t have staff, offices, equipment. The storerooms are empty. This is the current situation,” Orly Adas said during a press conference at the Knesset.

She said the committee was facing a serious budget shortfall following the past two elections.

“We don’t have the professional workers who know what election work is,” she said.

Adas, who earlier this month said the earliest date to hold third elections was February 25, explained it was not possible to hold a vote before then because parties need time to assemble their electoral slates and the Supreme Court must rule on whether candidates are legally qualified to run.

“The times can’t be cut,” she said.

The committee will also likely need a new chairperson, after Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer said last month there was “no chance” he would take up the post for a third time.

Under Israeli law, the Central Elections Committee chief is a member of the Supreme Court chosen by the other justices. No other judge of the top court has publicly expressed interest in the position.

A man casts his vote at a voting station in Jerusalem during the Knesset elections, on September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for at least 61 lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set.

Neither Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White chair Benny Gantz has so far been able to form a government, even though both have said they want to avoid a third vote.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Reports in recent days have indicated that Likud is seeking a unity deal that would leave Netanyahu as prime minister for six months, after which Gantz would take over. But Blue and White has reportedly expressed worries that Netanyahu will renege, after using the time to gain immunity from criminal charges hanging over his head.

A report Tuesday detailed a far-reaching deal that would see Netanyahu remain prime minister for three to six months, give Blue and White a trove of powerful ministries and have both sides back annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. But a number of sticking points meant the potential pact was still a long shot, according to Channel 13 news.

The unprecedented political gridlock has propelled the first serious challenge to Netanyahu from within the party’s ranks since he took over as leader from Ariel Sharon in late 2005, with Likud’s Central Committee to meet Sunday to begin the process of planning and scheduling party primaries, officials said.

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced criminal charges — including bribery, fraud and breach of trust — against Netanyahu in three corruption probes.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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