Israel’s parliamentary speaker resigns before court deadline on vote

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addressing the Knesset next to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addressing the Knesset next to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein

In doing so, Edelstein ignored a letter signed by 61 parliamentarians and was accused of acting anti-democratically.

In what the court called an unprecedented challenge of its authority by a public official, current speaker Yuli Edelstein had disobeyed its order to hold an election for the post - a vote he was set to lose. Such a vote could position Netanyahu's rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, to install an ally in Edelstein's stead and take control of parliament's agenda.

In the meantime, Gantz and his supporters from other parties have noted that they have enough votes to determine the next speaker of the Israeli Knesset, and are calling for a vote. Netanyahu has been indicted in three corruption cases, and Gantz is all but sure to muster majority support for such a bill if he were to submit it.

Netanyahu, who has denied accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, made no comment on the loss of an ally who could have run interference against legislation by Blue and White aimed at ending an 11-year tenure weakened by three inconclusive elections in less than a year.

That proved impossible following two previous elections past year, given the deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu bloc which includes the mainly Arab Joint List and its bitter rival, the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Attacking Edelstein's defiance but stopping short of penalising him in a contempt hearing, the court empowered Amir Peretz, a veteran legislator and a Netanyahu opponent, to hold a vote for the speaker's post later in the day.

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Edelstein responded to the demand issued by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut that he respond to a petition that had been filed against him following his resignation, stating: "Meaning no disrespect the court, but please honor my conscientious decision". "While the Court's decision was necessary, it is of course legitimate to disagree with the ruling".

As he announced his resignation, Edelstein also said Israel needed a unity government "as a pandemic endangers us from without".

Likud rallied behind Edelstein even as parliament's legal adviser formally informed him he was violating the ruling, despite his resignation - noting it goes into effect only in 48 hours.

"The Israeli parliament belongs to Israel's citizens and their elected representatives will follow the laws of the state of Israel and the rulings of its courts", Gantz said on Twitter. "My conscience will not permit me to comply with the order", he said.

This is a crucial period for Gantz, who's been assigned the task of forming a new governing coalition amid the health and economic crisis created by the coronavirus outbreak.

By resigning, Mr Edelstein stepped back from the brink but there is still huge uncertainty over whether Israel will be able to form a government or stumble into a fourth election.

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