Efforts by lawmakers to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections Wednesday night ran out of steam amid a slew of political schemes and machinations that saw MKs head home in the evening, dash back for a possible vote before midnight, and then go home again when the voting was postponed to Thursday.
The final readings of the vote to disperse the Knesset and call new elections were rescheduled for Thursday morning at 9 a.m. — extending a process that has become increasingly chaotic since MKs overwhelmingly approved the preliminary legislation last week.
Political haggling over what legislation to pass before the Knesset is dissolved significantly delayed the process of readying the dissolution bill in the Knesset House Committee over the course of Wednesday.
The coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu and Labor parties were adamant that a law to expedite and streamline the development of a subway system for central Israel — the so-called Metro Law — be passed before the Knesset is dissolved.
As the in-fighting stretched into late evening, the opposition, however, demanded in return for its support that MK Amichai Chikli’s status as a defector be reversed. Chikli, who was elected to the Knesset as a member of outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, was ousted by the party for opposing the coalition, blocking him from running in any existing Knesset faction in the next election.
Undoing Chikli’s designation as a “defector” could allow him and and fellow renegade Yamina MKs Idit Silman and Nir Orbach to split off from the party as a separate faction and join opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, while taking the allocated election financing with them. It is unclear whether such a move would be legally permissible.
Yisrael Beytenu and Labor sought to approve the deal, but Yamina and Justice Minister Gidon Sa’ar’s New Hope party bitterly opposed it, ultimately leading to the breakdown in efforts to pass the dissolution bill on Wednesday night.
“The fact that Amichai Chikli is prepared to sacrifice the metro, which will change the lives of millions of Israelis, to improve his personal political career is the height of wretchedness and opportunism,” Yamina said in a statement. “Every Israeli in an unnecessary traffic jam will know that it’s because of Amichai Chikli.”
Sa’ar tore into Likud over the proposal.
“Surrendering to blackmail in the Chikli case is a corrupt deal that is against the law and the decision of the Knesset committee that voted on the matter,” Sa’ar tweeted. “This ‘whitewashing’ will also be an encouragement to defect from parties the day after the election. The opposition has been campaigning for more defectors, and the coalition is unfortunately now giving it a stamp of approval”
As a result, Yisrael Beytenu said it would not withdraw its objections to the bill, threatening to drag out the dissolution process throughout Thursday.
Were the Knesset not to be dissolved by midnight Thursday, longstanding legislation applying Israeli law to Jews who live in the West Bank will expire, a situation which would have potentially severe legal consequences.
If the Knesset is dissolved before midnight on Thursday, this so-called settler law will automatically be renewed for six months during the period of the interim government.
Meanwhile, the opposition Joint List of mostly Arab parties submitted a raft of objections to the dissolution bill aimed specifically at further delaying the process, in the hope that the Knesset will only be dissolved after the settler law expires.
Legislation to help enable Israel to join the US Visa Waiver Program appears to be dead, meanwhile, due to the opposition’s refusal to let it pass, despite pleas from the US ambassador Thomas Nides.
A modest handover ceremony from Bennett to incoming interim prime minister Yair Lapid, which was scheduled for Thursday morning, will now be delayed until Friday, assuming the Knesset is successfully dissolved by midnight on Thursday.
The imminent dissolution of the Knesset was agreed upon between Lapid and Bennett last week after several rebellions by coalition MKs, undermining the ability of the government to pass legislation and govern effectively.
The elections, should they be called, will be Israel’s fifth in three and a half years and will cost an estimated NIS 2.4 billion.
The coalition is seeking to hold the elections on November 1, while the opposition prefers October 25, when ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students will still be on vacation and thus more likely to vote.
The dissolution bill will be advanced to the Knesset plenum with November 1 as the stipulated election date, along with an opposition objection seeking October 25. The matter will be decided by a vote in the Knesset plenum when the bill comes for its final readings.