Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigns over Supreme Court ruling

Clay Curtis
March 26, 2020

In Israel's 72-year history, a Knesset Speaker has never been appointed before the formation of a majority parliamentary coalition, and Knesset bylaws do not demand it.

After he refused to comply - with the encouragement of Netanyahu allies including the justice minister - the court issued a binding order for a vote by Wednesday.

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.

However, while the 62 Knesset members, including the 15 members of the Joint Arab List, who oppose Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's continued premiership are now unable to form a coalition, they would have voted against Edelstein, a strong Netanyahu ally, in the vote for a new speaker. But the main opposition party, centrist Blue and White led by former general Benny Gantz, controls a slim majority of 61 of parliament's 120 seats.

"I hereby resign from my position as Knesset speaker".

Many Israelis feared that Mr Edelstein would simply ignore the court ruling, a move that would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis as the supreme court and the parliament battled for supremacy.

When Edelstein resisted the attempt to oust him, Blue and White appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor.

But Edelstein doubled down, insisting he would not schedule the vote for Wednesday.

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Edelstein told the court in response to the petition, "My conscience doesn't allow me to carry out the ruling".

In an address later Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin said it was "the duty of every one of us to obey the rulings of the courts, and that it is inconceivable that anyone would not do so".

Edelstein belongs to Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, and his resignation removed a potential obstacle to opposition plans to pass a law barring the prime minister, as an indicted suspect in three corruption cases, from forming a new government following a March 2 national election. Three back-to-back elections, in which he's been pitted against Gantz, have ended inconclusively, and on top of the gridlock, Israel is now also facing severe economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Gantz has been tasked with trying to form a government.

Despite the divides within the anti-Netanyahu camp, it has been unified in backing legislation that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.

Netanyahu now heads a caretaker government.

"There's deep unrest among all parts of the nation, we must put it aside", he said in a televised address late Wednesday focusing on anti-coronavirus measures.

"We all need to act like human beings, to act, to unify, to rise above", he said.

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