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Netanyahu Ally Resigns as Knesset Speaker

Netanyahu Ally Resigns as Knesset Speaker

Wednesday, 25 March, 2020 - 09:45
A general view shows the plenum as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat

Speaker of Israel's parliament Yuli Edelstein, who is a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned on Wednesday, clearing the way for a vote that could see him replaced by a rival of the embattled PM.

Edelstein had refused to schedule a speakership vote until a new government was formed, but stood down after the Supreme Court set a Wednesday deadline for the vote to take place.

"I hereby resign from my position as speaker of the Knesset,” Edelstein said, in a move that could see a member of the Centrist Blue and White party, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, become speaker in the coming days.

Edelstein belongs to Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party.

He had suspended parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus. But opponents accused him of blocking a vote after his bloc failed to win a majority in the March 2 elections.

He has dismissed the Supreme Court’s call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, sparking an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with the Supreme Court chief justice ordering him to hold a vote.

With other top Likud members urging him to defy the order, he responded that he would “not agree to an ultimatum” and resigned instead.

“The Supreme Court decision destroys the work of the Knesset” and “marks a harsh and arrogant intervention of the judicial branch in the affairs of the elected legislative branch," Edelstein charged in his last appearance as speaker.

He said he would step down so as not to allow Israel to “descend to anarchy.”

The showdown marked the height of an ever-deepening standoff Netanyahu's opponents and supporters in the wake of the country's third inconclusive election in less than a year and against the backdrop of a series of emergency executive measures enacted to quell the spread of the new virus.

The Likud emerged as the largest party in the election earlier this month, but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, won only the support of 58 lawmakers — leaving his right-wing bloc three seats short of the required majority in parliament.

Gantz’s majority bloc is deeply divided along ideological lines and unlikely to band together to form an alternative government. But it is determined to oppose Netanyahu and seems willing to cooperate in parliament.

The bloc is expected to win a vote to nominate Meir Cohen as Edelstein's replacement.

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