Israel’s Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, resigned Wednesday, following a High Court ruling requiring that he permit a vote on his replacement by Wednesday.
In his resignation speech, Edelstein charged that “the High Court’s decision undercuts the foundations of democracy.” According to Knesset protocols, Edelstein’s resignation will come into effect in 48 hours.
The Knesset won’t be able to vote on a new Knesset speaker until then. Edelstein had refused to have the Knesset convene for a vote until Monday.
“I’m not interested in being in contempt of the court. Respect the dictates of my conscience,” Edelstein said. “My replacement will be able to do as they please in 48 hours.”
But Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that Edelstein’s submission of his resignation “does not allow him to refrain from complying with the ruling” that he hold a vote on his replacement. Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon said, however, that without special instructions from the High Court, the Knesset would not be able to convene.
Yinon told the High Court that a plan that would authorize the Knesset Arrangements Committee to hold a vote on a new speaker on Wednesday could not be adopted, as it violates Knesset protocol. The interim speaker, he added, could only begin his or her term on Friday.
By resigning, Edelstein achieves two things: First, in the battle over the independence of the Knesset, he will not be allowing the justices to set the Knesset’s agenda. Secondly, by resigning, he shortens the amount of time that the center-left bloc headed by Benny Gantz has to pass legislation that would bar Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment before Gantz’s current mandate to form a government expires.
As the Knesset member with the longest tenure in parliament, Labor Party leader Amir Peretz will replace Edelstein until the vote on a permanent speaker takes place, and will begin his term on Friday at 11 A.M. Early next week, Peretz will hold a vote on a permanent replacement. Legislative sources have indicated that Peretz may eventually be given the nod as permanent speaker, particularly in the event of a Gantz-Netanyahu unity government.
The plans were spelled out by Knesset Arrangements Committee chairman Avi Nissenkorn of Kahol Lavan. For his part, Edelstein called Peretz on Wednesday to discuss the transition.
On Wednesday afternoon, High Court President Esther Hayut gave consideration to statements from Edelstein and his legal advisers in connection with a petition filed by the non-profit group New Contract. The organization has been seeking to have Edelstein convene the Knesset by the end of the day Wednesday. Contempt of court provisions give the High Court authority to compel anyone to comply with a court decisio by imposing a fine or through imprisonment.
Kahol Lavan chose not to ask the High Court to hold Edelstein in contempt of the court after Yinon made it clear to Arrangements Committee chairman Nissenkorn that he should begin hearings on Wednesday on the selection of a new speaker.