Resisting pushback, Edelstein renews call to cancel elections

Knesset speaker warns Israelis could go to polls for third time if his plan to cancel September vote fails; takes aim at Ehud Barak, who hits back at ‘sycophantic scheme’

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaking at the IDC conference in Herzliya, June 30, 2019. (Gilad Kvalerchick)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaking at the IDC conference in Herzliya, June 30, 2019. (Gilad Kvalerchick)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday renewed his call to cancel national elections in September, warning that failure to do so could result in Israelis going to the polls for a third time in less than a year.

Edelstein, a senior member of the ruling Likud party, last week floated the possibility of canceling the September 17 vote, which was called after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government in the wake of elections in April.

Netanyahu said he would weigh Edelstein’s proposal, which has been roundly rejected by opposition lawmakers and questioned as legally dubious.

“My assumption is that if we don’t succeed in implementing this initiative, after September 17 these exact same players will sit around the same table and need to discuss the issues that at the moment they refuse to speak about,” Edelstein insisted during a question and answer session at the annual Israel Disciplinary Center security conference in Herzliya.

“It is better for our country and the entire public to agree upon things now and save three months and billions of dollars,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on October 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Though the Knesset speaker did not specify who those “same players” were or what issues they were divided on, he was likely referring to Netanyahu’s failure to form a ruling coalition. The prime minister was had been unable to reconcile the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Yisrael Beytenu party on legislation concerning the enlistment of seminary students.

Rather then allow the president to task another Knesset member with forming a coalition as Israel’s Basic Laws prescribe, Netanyahu then pushed through a bill to immediately set new elections and prevent any political rival from become prime minister in his place.

Now, despite insufficient support in the Knesset to overturn that decision, Edelstein said he still had hope his proposal to prevent a repeat election could pass.

“Who can promise there won’t be third elections?” he asked in a possible plea to his fellow lawmakers.

Asked about the emergence of new political players during the latest election campaign, Edelstein took aim at former prime minister Ehud Barak, who last week announced he would return to politics and launch a new party in a bid to unseat Netanyahu.

“Ehud Barak is the most defeatist and failed prime minister in the history of the State of Israel,” Edelstein said. “I hope he won’t pass the [minimum] electoral threshold.”

Barak quickly hit back at Edelstein.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a press conference announcing his return to politics ahead of national elections in September, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“The Knesset speaker continues to be the operations officer for rescuing the suspect from Balfour,” Barak tweeted, referring to the Jerusalem street where the Prime Minister’s Residence is, and the pending corruption indictment against Netanyahu.

He charged that the proposal was not aimed at the good of the country, but was rather part of a “sycophantic scheme” by Edelstein to become president when incumbent Reuven Rivlin’s term ends in 2021.

“We must ensure this doesn’t happen,” Barak said of Edelstein’s plan.

While analysts and lawmakers have questioned whether Edelstein’s plan is even legally viable, he has insisted the required legal tools exist.

Even if it were found to be legal, it would require the support of 80 lawmakers, a highly unlikely prospect without Blue and White or other opposition parties.

Benny Gantz, the Blue and White leader, said last week the plan was “legally impossible” and Netanyahu’s decision to call elections could not be reversed.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 26, 2019. (Flash90)

He also asserted that, had Netanyahu not dissolved parliament, Rivlin would have tasked him with trying to form a government.

According to Channel 12, Edelstein’s workaround plan could see the Knesset Presidium convened to cancel parliament’s current hiatus. A new law would then be introduced that enables parliament to cancel elections.

It is not clear whether such a move is legally possible, after the legislature voted in late May to disband. Channel 13 reported last week that Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon was drafting an opinion saying there is no legal basis for canceling the September elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has already told politicians that calling off the vote was not legally possible, Channel 12 reported.

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