Liberman says his party will back law that would bar Netanyahu from being PM

Liberman says his party will back law that would bar Netanyahu from being PM

With Yisrael Beytenu’s support, legislation preventing indicted MK from leading government will have majority in Knesset; secular, right-wing slate also pushes law for term limits

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman sign a coalition agreement in the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman sign a coalition agreement in the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Yisrael Beytenu party announced on Thursday that it would support a law barring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government, in a move that would likely ensure a majority for such legislation in the Knesset.

“At the faction meeting that just ended, it was decided to move forward with the promotion of two laws,” the secular, right-wing said in a statement. “The first law [will] limit the tenure of a prime minister to two terms. The second law [will] prevent an MK facing indictment from forming a government.”

The legislation is aimed directly at Netanyahu, who has served four terms as prime minister and has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases against him that are slated to begin on March 17.

Yisrael Beytenu joins MKs from Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List who have said they would back legislation barring Netanyahu from forming a coalition. If all members of the four parties support it, the law will pass with a majority of 62 votes in favor.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman tours the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv on election day, September 17, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday Netanyahu accused rival Benny Gantz of seeking to undermine democracy and defy the will of the public after Blue and White confirmed that it would seek legislation to bar the Likud leader from serving as prime minister due to his upcoming trial.

“Gantz lost and now he’s trying to steal the election,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting of right-wing factions that support him, as a near-final tally of votes in Monday’s election showed his bloc at 58 seats, three short of the Knesset majority he needs. The bloc that opposes him has 62 seats.

Gantz proposed such a law after the September election, but it was struck down at the time by Liberman.

“The people’s will is clear. The national Zionist camp includes 58 seats. The leftist Zionist camp includes 47 seats,” Netanyahu said, including Yisrael Beytenu as part of the left, but leaving out the predominantly Arab Joint List and its apparent 15 seats, suggesting that their supporters are not part of the collective Israeli people.

He added: “My friends and I, and millions of citizens who supported us, will not let that happen.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the heads of right-wing parties, after Israeli elections once against appear to leave him without a clear majority, March 04, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Meanwhile the head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, tweeted: “Netanyahu wouldn’t recognize democracy if it filed three indictments against him and prevented him from forming a government for a third time.”

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Wednesday said no legislation could be passed until a new parliament is sworn in. But Blue and White is reportedly planning to file the draft law only after the new Knesset is sworn in on March 16.

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.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh arrives for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A similar law to the one being pushed by Blue and White, 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.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the plan to pass a law barring a person facing criminal charges from serving as prime minister was technically possible to implement, with some observers arguing that private member, non-governmental draft laws cannot be filed during a transitional government.

Blue and White is apparently convinced it is possible, and that it isn’t different from Likud proposing a law to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, which was voted on and passed.

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