Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also intervened, urging the parliament’s speaker, Yuli Edelstein, not to let the coronavirus crisis “harm our democratic system,” after Edelstein effectively blocked a vote to name a new speaker and prevented the creation of crucial oversight committees.
Two weeks ago, Israel held its third national election in less than a year after two previous rounds of voting produced a stalemate between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz. The March 2 vote gave Likud more seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, but the number of lawmakers determined to oust Netanyahu represented a slight majority.
With Israel now on emergency footing to combat the spread of the virus, the most likely scenario, observers say, is for Blue and White to form a unity government with Likud. But Gantz and his party say they will not join a government led by Netanyahu, who is now under indictment on corruption charges, and Netanyahu refuses to step aside.
On Monday, after the Knesset was formally inaugurated, Blue and White submitted legislation aimed at wresting power from Netanyahu and petitioned to hold a vote that would replace the Likud-appointed Edelstein, a move that would give Gantz’s party greater control over the parliament’s agenda.
But Edelstein, who has held that position since 2013, called Blue and White’s attempts to replace him “petty politics” and said it was not the time to advance controversial legislation, when the two sides should be coming together to manage the emergency situation.
He took what appeared to be further steps Wednesday to block Blue and White, halting proceedings aimed at establishing four key parliamentary committees, including one that would oversee the government’s management of the coronavirus situation. Opposition parties have called for the committees to be composed of the traditional number of 17 members each, which would give Gantz’s bloc greater power in the parliament.
Likud has said that in light of coronavirus restrictions that bar no more than 10 people gathering in a closed space, the committees should have fewer members, splitting the committee members equally between the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, undermining Blue and White’s power.
“It is all political maneuvering, but the end result is a slowdown in the process of transition of power in the Knesset,” said Yuval Shany, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute.