Photo Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
PM Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, April 30, 2019.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein declared on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will agree to enter a period of leave of absence as soon as he is indicted on corruption charges.

“Should Netanyahu serve as prime minister and he is indicted, the president provided an answer: he will go on leave of absence,” Edelstein told Reshet Bet radio.

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“I have expressed my full support that he should pay this price in order to form a government,” Edelstein said.

Under Israeli law, Nivtzarut (leave of absence) is the inability of a government official to fulfill his role, for various reasons, and when it comes to a vital government post, the disability requires the appointment of a deputy. The law recognizes temporary disability, due to a medical condition, for example, and permanent disability, when it is clear that the official will not return to office.

Basic Law: The Government, states: “After 100 consecutive days during which the prime minister’s deputy has served as prime minister instead of the prime minister himself, and the latter has not come back, he will be considered as being permanently unable to fulfil his role,” and his government will be considered to have resigned.

President Reuven Rivlin proposed an arrangement whereby a rotation government would be formed by Likud and Blue&White, in which Netanyahu would serve as prime minister in the first half, with Gantz as his deputy, and should Netanyahu face indictments he would enter a leave of absence status and Gantz would act as PM with the full authority of the office.

This agreement would require a constitutional change to remove the 100-day limit.

According to Edelstein, the prime minister, who is still struggling to assemble the next government, has already agreed to the president’s proposal.

“Netanyahu agreed to go out on leave of absence in order to make forming a government possible. It’s more than a simple show of leadership,” Edelstein pointed out.

When asked if he thinks the move to keep Netanyahu as PM in name only during his trial was proper, Edelstein replied: “I appreciate Netanyahu’s ability to do anything. Under such circumstances, when that is what would guarantee the establishment of a new government, it is certainly appropriate.”

As to the possibility that Likud would elect an alternative party leader should Netanyahu fail to form a government, Edelstein said: “At the moment I have not heard of a competition or primaries in the Likud. This talk about future primaries is only harmful. The Likud should not propose an alternate candidate for the critical 21 days (when the mandate to pick a PM is given to the Knesset – DI), here we choose a [permanent] leader. I don’t believe Likud seniors will say to Netanyahu, We’ll take it up from here.”

“I hear and read people writing on Twitter that if I were at the helm [we’d have a government], but in the party of those people there are no primary elections,” the House Speaker said, referring, of course to Israel Beiteinu, which is led by an unelected boss, Avigdor Liberman.

However, Edelstein did not reject in principle the idea of his future run for the party’s leadership. He came in first in the party’s February 5 primaries—which did not include Chairman Netanyahu.

“I don’t rule out any competition, I haven’t been doing badly so far,” he said.

Edelstein announced that, for the sake of unity, he would relinquish his position as Speaker of the Knesset, for a limited time, in favor of a Blue&White candidate.

“For the sake of forming a government, I am certainly prepared to give up my seat for a limited time,” he told Reshet Bet radio.

On Wednesday, the rightwing bloc leaders rejected Likud Minister Zeev Elkin’s proposal to pledge their support for Netanyahu as prime minister once the deadline for Gantz’s attempt to form a government is over, and the Knesset has 21 days to pick a candidate.

Netanyahu and Liberman met on Thursday morning, as part of the last-ditch efforts to assemble the next government, but did not reach an agreement. As usual, Netanyahu offered Liberman the sky for his return to the government and Liberman said Nyet. On Wednesday, Liberman announced that “if by Yom Kippur there is no breakthrough, Israel Beiteinu will make its own bid to both factions.”

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