Knesset Approves Rotation Agreement; New Gov’t Set to Go

The plenum hall of the Knesset. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Knesset voted Thursday morning in favor of the coalition deal between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz after the High Court said that, for now, it had no objections to the agreement.

The premiership rotation bill passed by a margin of 72 to 36, with members of the Yamina party, which has indicated it might opt for the opposition, not present for the vote.

Also absent were some members of the Yisrael Beytenu party, including party leader Avigdor Liberman.

Now that the Knesset has approved the bill, in effect naming Netanyahu their preferred candidate for prime minister, President Reuven Rivlin is expected later Thursday to task him with forming a government.

The new government is to be sworn in on May 13, ending more than a year of political limbo.

The bill to amend the basic law deals with the structure of the rotation government of Netanyahu and Gantz, defining it as an equal government, in which both blocs that will make up the coalition will have an equal number of ministers and deputy ministers.

The bill further deals with the swearing-in of the prime minister and the alternate prime minister as soon as the government is established, the date on which the transfer of power between the current prime minister and the designated prime minister shall take place, and the daily conduct of the government.

Under the coalition deal, Netanyahu and Gantz would be sworn in together, with Netanyahu serving first as prime minister and Gantz as the designated premier. After 18 months, the two are to swap positions. The new position of designated prime minister will enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister, including an official residence and, key for Netanyahu, an exemption from a law that requires public officials who are not prime minister to resign if indicted.

Late Wednesday night, the High Court found that Netanyahu’s unity government deal with Gantz does not violate the law, dismissing arguments that it unlawfully shields him in a corruption trial.

In unanimous rulings, the 11-justice panel “found no legal basis to prevent MK Netanyahu from forming the government.”

But it added that its decision “should not be construed as diminishing the gravity of the charges faced by against public probity, nor the difficulty posed by the tenure of a prime minister accused of crimes.”

The court added that Netanyahu has the right to presumption of innocence.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu and Gantz met to discuss the changes that could be introduced to their coalition agreement. On the table: senior appointments, the so-called “Norwegian Law,” the Health Ministry portfolio, and the possibility of extending the next government’s term to four and a half years, to be split evenly between Likud and Blue and White, after the High Court questioned the validity of just a three-year term.

Following the High Court’s late-night ruling that it found no grounds to prevent the government from taking office, the reactions from across the political spectrum were quick to follow.

Former Justice Minister MK Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), welcomed the court’s decision and wrote: “Even the obvious must be stated: This isn’t law, it’s politics. The arguments that were made in this petition turn the political process into a legal process, and it’s good that the court abstained from intervening. Giving the prime minister the mandate [to form the next government] is the apex of a clear political process that implements the will of the people.”

Minister Miri Regev (Likud) also welcomed the ruling. “The judges in Yerushalayim did well not to intervene. There’s a sovereign entity in Israel, the people, and they said their piece,” she wrote on Twitter.

Interestingly, the leftwing politicians were suddenly up in arms against the High Court. Former Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Galon lambasted the court’s decision. “The moral injustice of allowing a man accused of crimes of moral turpitude to steer the wheel of the country and serve as prime minister cannot be decided by any court, even if the ruling was made unanimous by 11 judges.”

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) expressed her disappointment over the ruling and tweeted: “I respect the High Court of Justice’s decision. Even if it’s legal for someone indicted on corruption charges to form a government, it doesn’t make the stench more bearable. [Wednesday] too, anyone lending Netanyahu a hand is a partner to corruption.”

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said that although it would respect the High Court’s ruling on the matter, from a moral perspective “it’s impossible to accept a situation where a prime minister is suspected of crimes. The Netanyahu-Gantz government is the essence of the phrase ‘it’s clean but it still stinks.’ On May 9, we will hold a large rally at Rabin Square under the banner of ‘Israel is ashamed.'”

The High Court acknowledged that the deal was “unusual” in the country’s history, but said they had decided “there are no grounds for interference in any of its clauses.”

The court noted that “some of the clauses in the agreement cause considerable legal difficulties. However, it is not yet time to examine these claims.”

The court is waiting for the agreement to become law before it rules on its legality, meaning that the deal may still face legal challenges that could lead to a fourth round of elections.