Three and a half years after its first sitting following the 2015 elections, the 20th Knesset is set to come to an end on Wednesday as lawmakers vote on a bill to dissolve parliament and set new elections for April 9.
A day after government ministers approved pushing ahead with the move, the Knesset will be host to a frantic series of committee debates and votes on the bill to dissolve parliament in an attempt to complete work on the move by the end of the day and officially start the election campaign for the 2019 election.
According to the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill — which is expected to pass by a large margin — will face all three plenary readings on Wednesday in an accelerated legislative move reserved for emergency measures.
The first business of the day therefore began at 9.30 when members of the Knesset House Committee gathered to pass a motion allowing the dissolution bill to be pushed through the Knesset in one day and not be subject to the six-week waiting period that regular legislation normally faces after being proposed.
Following the unanimous vote in favor of the motion, the bill now faces a first plenary debate and vote currently scheduled for 11 a.m. If the vote passes, the bill will return to the House Committee for final deliberations before once again being sent back to the plenum.
In the plenary’s second session, the bill faces two separate votes: the first on each of the two clauses in the bill, and the second on the bill as a whole. If the final vote passes with even a simple majority of 1-0, the Knesset will automatically disperse.
The first clause of the no-frills bill states the 20th Knesset will “dissolve itself ahead of elections,” and the second sets the date, agreed upon by coalition and opposition parties, for April 9th.
While the bill is not expected to face opposition, it could be held up by the head of the Knesset House Committee, MK Miki Zohar, who on Tuesday called for delaying the dissolution of the Knesset, arguing that lawmakers need more time to pass essential legislation before the elections and suggesting that he will use his position to block the bill.
Zohar cited two laws he said needed to be passed before the Knesset dissolves — his own bill to limit access to pornography online and a proposal by Likud MK Amir Ohana to ease access to the Israeli bar exam.
While elections have traditionally been held at least 90 days after the dissolution of the Knesset, by law, there is no minimum waiting period. If the Knesset votes to dissolve Wednesday, it will leave 105 days until elections, while immediately freezing any bills working their way through the Knesset.
Given the 15-day cushion, Zohar said there was no need to rush the bill to dissolve parliament and prevent legislative work from continuing.
“The Knesset must serve the State of Israel and not the politicians,” he said, telling his colleagues to “open up your calendars and set the date accordingly.”
Zohar, an acolyte of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has proposed and overseen a number of controversial pieces of legislation. said that the parliament should remain in full swing until the last possible opportunity, which falls on January 9.
According to Knesset bylaws, as chairman of the committee which would oversee the preparation of the bill, Zohar could in theory hold up the proposal indefinitely with no obligation to hold a vote within any specified time frame.
Speaking at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting, Zohar said that he agrees with the date of the national poll, but thinks the Knesset should wait to officially call elections.
“The date has been agreed upon by all factions and I support it,” he said at the opening of the debate. “But there are tax laws that are very important to those who sent us here and we can finalize the legislation on a number key issues.”
Coalition chairman David Amsalem, however, said that the bill to dissolve parliament would be passed in all three readings Wednesday and other legislation would be passed during special recess sessions that can be called during the election campaign.
Netanyahu on Monday called the early elections for April, setting the stage for a campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader.
With the Likud leader holding a commanding lead in the polls, all eyes are on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and whether he will decide before the elections on whether to press charges against the longtime leader on a series of corruption allegations.
A first major round of polls on Tuesday found that Netanyahu is the strong favorite to win the upcoming race, though he is not hugely popular among voters.
The polls found that most Israelis do not think Netanyahu should be the next prime minister, though even fewer think any one of his rivals should be. In Israel’s multi-party system, however, even middling support is usually enough to win the premiership.