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Joint List MKs could add their support to measure

Change bloc seeks to replace Knesset speaker; Yamina MK says he won’t back move

Likud’s Yariv Levin thought planning to delay vote to approve new government in bid to woo defectors, leading new coalition to try to oust him, but Nir Orbach refuses to go along

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

The so-called “change bloc” headed by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wasted no time Thursday setting the wheels in motion for the new potential government to be sworn in, pushing for a vote for the Knesset speaker to be replaced as soon as possible.

The move to replace Likud’s Yariv Levin is designed to deny the speaker the chance to drag his feet on scheduling a confidence vote on the new government, which if approved by the Knesset would oust Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu from power after 12 years as prime minister.

However, shortly after a Lapid-initiated letter was submitted to the Knesset’s secretary general demanding a vote on Monday fora new Speaker, with the required signatures of 61 lawmakers, Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who has been openly second-guessing his initial support for the broad-based coalition, said that he was withdrawing his name from the anti-Levin move.

Orbach’s announcement meant that a vote to elect a new speaker on Monday no longer has a clear majority, although it could still pass if an opposing MK were to back it or be absent at the time of the vote. Some MKs from the Joint List were reported Thursday to be willing to back the move, but members of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party were not prepared to rely on their support.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yamina head Naftali Bennett and Orbach were set to meet on Thursday after holding a “good” meeting in the early hours of the morning after the coalition deal was announced and prior to the submission of the letter.

In the letter to the Knesset’s secretary general, the change bloc asked that a vote to replace Levin with Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy as speaker be placed on the agenda at the next plenum session, which is set for Monday.

Once the Knesset is formally notified Monday that Lapid wants to swear in his coalition, the Speaker has up to a week to schedule the vote. The “change bloc” fears Levin would indeed seek to push off the vote to June 14, and thus wants to install Levy in Levin’s stead.

The rushed timeline underlined fears in Lapid’s nascent coalition that Knesset members will get cold feet before the government is sworn in.

MK Mickey Levy, seen during a meeting of the Finance Committee in the Knesset on November 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The so-called change coalition comprises a wide array of parties from the left to the pro-settlement right and includes the Islamist Ra’am faction, set to be the first Arab party crucial to the formation of a government. It will be led by Bennett as prime minister for two years, before Lapid takes over for the remainder of the term.

Likud and its allies are working furiously to convince right-wing members of the proposed coalition of 61 out of 120 MKs to mutiny and deny the government its necessary majority.

Yamina’s Amichai Chikli has already announced he will not support the coalition, depriving it of its 62nd MK. On Wednesday, Orbach announced he could vote against the new coalition, potentially dooming it.

Netanyahu and his political allies have been pressing lawmakers in Yamina and fellow right-wing New Hope party not to form a government with Lapid, with that pressure expected to further grow in the up-to-12 days before the Knesset vote is held.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021 (Courtesy of Ra’am)

If the emerging government is sworn in, Israel will have a new prime minister for the first time since 2009. Along with the over 12 consecutive years he has served as premier since then, Netanyahu was also prime minister for three years in the late 1990s.

Under the emerging coalition agreements, Lapid will serve as foreign minister in the first two years of the government, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will remain defense minister, and the treasury will be held by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will be justice minister, while Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked will be interior minister. Labor’s Merav Michaeli received the transportation portfolio and her fellow party member Omer Barlev will be public security minister. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be appointed health minister, while fellow party member Tamar Zandberg will be environmental protection minister and Issawi Frej regional cooperation minister.

The final coalition agreements have yet to be formally released and negotiations are expected to continue until the swearing-in.

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