Government-in-Waiting Seeks to Replace Knesset Speaker; MK Orbach Withdraws Signature

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Hours after Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid announced to President Reuven Rivlin he had managed to form a government, members of the “bloc for change” submitted their signatures Thursday morning to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who is from the Likud.

The government-in-waiting seeks to replace Levin with Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy.

In a document submitted to Knesset Secretary-General Yardena Meller-Horowitz, they request that the vote to elect the 24th Knesset Speaker be placed on the agenda for the next plenum, which will convene on Monday.

However, Yamina MK Nir Orbach withdrew his signature from the petition Thursday morning, jeopardizing the motion. Without Orbach, the coalition would not have the 61 MKs needed to unseat Levin.

Sources close to Levin have said that he would only allow a vote of confidence in the new government on the last possible date permitted by law, in order to increase pressure on Yamina MKs to vote against the government.

There is a legal dispute over whether the latest date would be next Wednesday, seven days after the coalition was formed, or the following Monday, seven days after the coalition’s formation can be announced in the Knesset plenum. Replacing Levin would enable a new speaker to bring the confidence vote on the earliest possible date, this coming Monday.

MK Nir Orbach (Yamina). (Flash90)

Lapid and his “bloc for change” co-leader Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett — who is poised to take the premiership first — now must maintain their fragile coalition until it is sworn in, and are working to advance the convening of the plenum in the Knesset to the earliest possible date, through replacing the Knesset speaker.

Immediately after Lapid’s announcement to Rivlin, the “bloc for change” turned to Levin and demanded he convene the plenum to appoint his replacement.

The new government, if it is sworn in, will face considerable diplomatic, security and economic challenges: Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians, a war crimes probe by the International Criminal Court and economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

Bennett has said that both sides would have to compromise on  ideological issues in order to get the country back on track, with government debt at 72.4% in 2020, up from 60% in 2019 and the deficit jumping to 11.6% in 2020 from 3.7% in 2019.

The makeup of the emerging government will see Bennett serve as prime minister first, with Lapid serving as alternate prime minister and foreign minister.

Gantz will remain defense minister, Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked will be named interior minister, Labor leader Merav Michaeli will serve as transportation minister, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will be the justice minister, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Lieberman will serve as finance minister.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be named health minister, Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev will be the public security minister, New Hope MK Yoaz Hendel was named communication minister, New Hope MK Yifat Shasha-Biton will serve as education minister, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg will serve as environmental protection minister, and fellow party MK Esawi Frej will serve as regional cooperation minister.

Yamina’s Matan Kahana will serve as religious affairs minister, Blue and White MKs Pnina Tamano-Shata and Alon Schuster will continue in their respective roles of aliyah and integration minister and agriculture minister, respectively. Party member Chili Tropper will serve as culture and sports minister.

New Hope MK Ze’ev Elkin will serve as housing minister, Yesh Atid’s Orna Barbivay will be the economy minister, Labor MK Nachman Shai will head the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Blue and White’s Orit Farkash-Hacohen will serve as science minister, Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen will retain his position as welfare and social services minister, fellow party member Meirav Cohen will be social equality minister, and another Yesh Atid MK, who has yet to be named, will head the Energy Ministry.

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