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MKs gear up to dissolve Knesset in final votes; Lapid set to assume premiership

Key pieces of legislation fall victim to negotiations between coalition and opposition over election date; climate bill passes 1st reading; supervised dairy product prices to rise

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak ahead of the preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, on June 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak ahead of the preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, on June 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli lawmakers were gearing up to pass the final readings of a bill to dissolve the 24th Knesset late Wednesday, sending the country to another round of elections — a fifth national vote since 2019.

The first reading of the bill passed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers spent Monday and Tuesday wrangling over such issues as the date of the next national elections and which legislation would be passed before parliament dissolves.

The governing coalition and the opposition, led by the Likud party, are currently battling over a number of bills being held hostage to their dispute over the election schedule, including the Metro Law, the country’s most ambitious public transportation project, which aims to connect Tel Aviv’s commuter zones and reduce traffic.

In addition, legislation critical for Israel to be able to join the US Visa Waiver Program has become a card in the negotiations. On Tuesday, the US ambassador made a rare plea to Israeli lawmakers to support the visa-related legislation and the embassy reached out to senior Likud MK Yariv Levin, asking his opposition party not to vote against the bills.

Legislation on restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence has also been dragged into the negotiation process between the two sides; and a bill that would bar a person under indictment — such as former premier Benjamin Netanyahu — from forming a government will also not move forward.

The bills are being used as an attempt to control the schedule for the expected elections. The opposition prefers October 25 for national elections, a day when yeshiva students — key voters for the Likud bloc, which is partly made up of ultra-Orthodox parties — are on Jewish holiday vacation and will therefore be near their home polling stations rather than away at yeshiva, and more likely to vote.

But as of Tuesday evening, a majority of Knesset members were inclined to choose November 1, a date preferred by the coalition, according to a report by public broadcaster Kan.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 22, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The sides did manage to advance some bills on Tuesday, including a first reading of the Climate Bill, which seeks to commit the government to cutting global warming emissions by at least 27 percent by 2030 compared with a 2015 benchmark, and to reach net-zero by 2050.

However, supporters of the bill will have to race against the clock to pass it through two more readings before the Knesset is expected to disperse.

The bill provides for the establishment of a ministerial committee on climate affairs, to be headed by the prime minister, for the purpose of ensuring smooth coordination between various government bodies. It also commits the environmental protection minister to producing a National Emission Reduction Plan for government approval.

Unrecognized Bedouin villages around the Ramat Hovav industrial area in southern Israel suffer from a high level of air pollution from nearby chemical evaporation ponds and an Israel Electric Corporation power plant. December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)

In addition, the legislation orders government ministries and other bodies to compile climate change preparation plans, implement them and report on them once a year. These plans are to be approved within two years of the bill becoming law, and are to be updated every five years.

The Knesset plenum also voted to extend the state of emergency that has been in place for most of the pandemic and authorizes the government to set emergency regulations. The vote passed in the Knesset 23–2.

Also on Tuesday evening, the finance and agricultural ministries raised the prices of dairy products whose prices are capped under government supervision by 4.9%. The announcement came days ahead of a large rally set to be held in Tel Aviv to protest spiraling living costs.

According to coalition-opposition understandings, the final readings of the bill to dissolve parliament will be held by Wednesday midnight.

Once it is passed, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to hand over power on Thursday to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will serve as interim prime minister through elections and until a new government is formed.

The Wednesday night deadline is significant because legislative provisions that apply Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the West Bank are set to expire at midnight on Thursday, and the expiry of the provisions would cause “legal chaos,” according to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar. A law renewing the provisions for five more years has been blocked amid the political crisis, with the Netanyahu-led opposition refusing to help pass the legislation even though it backs it ideologically, in part because approval now could help Lapid assemble a coalition post-election with left-wing and Arab MKs that oppose it. If the Knesset disperses before midnight Thursday, however, the legislation will be automatically renewed for six months.

The coalition’s initial plan was to push the dispersal legislation through all three of its plenum readings on Monday. But that process could not get started early enough because the bill first needed the approval of the House Committee, headed by chairman Nir Orbach, who held off on convening his panel until late Monday in order to give the opposition more time for a long-shot bid to muster an alternative coalition. Orbach is an MK from Bennett’s own Yamina party who quit the coalition earlier this month, helping precipitate the coalition’s collapse.

MK Nir Orbach leads a meeting of the Knesset House Committee, June 21, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Such a new coalition would need the support of at least 61 of the 120 MKs, and while Netanyahu successfully whittled away at the Bennett coalition’s majority, he has been unable to muster an absolute majority of his own in the current Knesset.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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