Speaker of the Knesset resigns: ‘Supreme court is destroying parliament’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addressing the Knesset next to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein

The speaker of Israel's parliament, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned on Wednesday, sharpening a battle with the Supreme Court over its concerns that democracy could be a casualty of the coronavirus crisis.

However, while the 62 Knesset members, including the 15 members of the Joint Arab List, who oppose Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's continued premiership are now unable to form a coalition, they would have voted against Edelstein, a strong Netanyahu ally, in the vote for a new speaker. Netanyahu has been indicted in three corruption cases, and Gantz is all but sure to muster majority support for such a bill if he were to submit it.

The resignation comes after a year of political turmoil that has seen three inconclusive elections, and after Netanyahu imposed strict legal and security measures to deal with the pandemic. This, however, is a shock to the system - until now, the position of speaker has only been put to the vote after the position of Prime Minister has been settled.

That proved impossible following two previous elections a year ago, given the deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu bloc which includes the mainly Arab Joint List and its bitter rival, the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Edelstein said in his resignation letter that the Supreme Court's ruling that demanded he permit a vote on a new speaker "is not based on the letter of the law but on a one-sided and extreme interpretation". He can either try to forge his unwieldy opposition coalition into a governing party or else agree to some form of unity government with Mr Netanyahu. In his resignation later, he assailed the court's decision as "an infringement on the sovereignty of the Knesset" - and in quitting defied it. "While the Court's decision was necessary, it is of course legitimate to disagree with the ruling".

Gantz has been tasked with trying to form a government. "It is illegitimate, however, to raise the prospect of not complying with an explicit court order".

However, the centre-Left opposition, led by former army general Benny Gantz, has banded together with several smaller parties to create a narrow and unsteady majority in parliament.

"The Israeli parliament belongs to Israel's citizens and their elected representatives will follow the laws of the state of Israel and the rulings of its courts", Gantz said on Twitter.

"My conscience does not let me obey the ruling, which is why I resigned", he told the court on Wednesday, noting his replacement could decide on the matter. But he has no easy path to do so because of resistance within his own camp to cooperating with the non-Zionist Joint List of Arab parties.

Amid a deep political stalemate, no government has been formed to replace a caretaker administration.

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