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Lawmakers fast-track bills to curb Netanyahu’s ability to form a government

Motions advancing term limits, barring criminal defendants from being tasked with forming coalition are backed by Ra’am, opposed by Yamina

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Yair Lapid (R). (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Yair Lapid (R). (Flash90)

The Knesset’s Arrangements Committee on Monday voted to fast-track bills that would hinder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of forming a new coalition, in a minor political victory for Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who is currently tasked with forming a government that would oust the incumbent from power.

Political scrambling has continued after a ceasefire capped an 11-day round of intense fighting with terror groups in the Gaza Strip on Friday. Lapid has just nine days left before his mandate expires and passes on to the Knesset for three additional weeks. If no government is formed by then, Israel heads to its fifth election in 2.5 years.

The fast-tracked bills state that a premier cannot serve for more than two terms, and that a criminal defendant — such as Netanyahu — cannot be tasked by the president with forming a government.

However, the latter bill does allow 61 lawmakers to recommend a criminal defendant as premier while the Knesset has the mandate. That is a compromise made to secure the support of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, according to Channel 12 news.

All committee members representing parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp supported the proposal, in addition to the potential kingmaker Ra’am party. Members of the bloc supporting the premier voted against it, as did Yamina, which like Ra’am has not ruled out either bloc.

The approved motion means the bills can go up immediately for votes in the Knesset plenum, without waiting the default time set by law.

Though Lapid’s own chances of forming a coalition have been severely hampered since Yamina chief Naftali Bennett last week seemingly ruled out joining the “change bloc,” he does have hope that parties opposing Netanyahu will help pass the laws limiting his rule.

The bills still have to pass a preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum and then three more readings to become law.

A Netanyahu-pushed bill for direct elections for prime minister failed to pass.

MK Karin Elharar seen during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Monday’s discussion, chaired by Arrangements Committee chairwoman MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid), was frequently interrupted by shouting matches between lawmakers, who were also debating motions to fast-track other bills, including to form a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster last month, in which 45 ultra-Orthodox pilgrims were crushed to death during the Lag B’Omer festival.

Some lawmakers decried Elharrar’s behavior as aggressive, with Likud MK May Golan calling it a “dictatorship.”

Several MKs, including the extremist Itamar Ben Gvir, were temporarily ejected from the discussion room. Other members of the pro-Netanyahu camp exited in protest, and then returned for the vote.

Lapid is also charging ahead with efforts to form a government, despite admitting Monday that his chances are not high.

Yesh Atid said Monday that the party had made “significant progress” in talks with the Blue and White and Labor parties toward agreeing on a coalition government, and that work was to continue toward that goal.

At his party’s faction meeting in the Knesset, Lapid said that “as long as there is still a chance, no matter how small, we will turn over every stone to establish a government.”

“Anyone who wants to talk, my door is open,” he said.

To build a majority in the Knesset, Lapid will need, in addition to Blue and White and Labor, the partnership of at least the right-wing New Hope and the Yamina parties. Even with those two parties he will come up short and require further support — likely from outside the coalition — from Ra’am, an Islamist party.

Lapid reportedly met with New Hope leader MK Gideon Sa’ar on Sunday and negotiating teams from their two parties are set to hold talks again later this week.

New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The flurry of political activity came a day after Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, a key piece in the puzzle for Lapid’s coalition-building efforts, launched a blistering attack on Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as his management of the recent round of fighting with the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Bennett then went on to urge — without mentioning any names — potential partners to a coalition to ease their stances to enable forming a government.

“This is not the time to stick to boycotts. This is the time to do the necessary thing and form a functioning government,” he said, referring to key political parties that have ruled out joining a coalition with other potential partners.

Lapid and Bennett were on the verge of clinching a coalition deal with the support of the Ra’am party when the fighting with Gaza terror groups broke out, leading Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas to back out and Bennett to later declare that the option was no longer viable.

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