MKs try again on Thursday to disperse the Knesset, call elections as the scramble continues

Legislative efforts to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections for Wednesday night petered out amid a series of political schemes and machinations in which the MKs went home in the evening, stormed back before midnight for a possible vote, and then went home again when the vote was due was postponed to Thursday.

The final readings of the vote to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections have been pushed back to 9am Thursday morning – an extension of a process that has become increasingly chaotic since the MKs overwhelmingly approved the interim law last week.

Political haggling over what laws should be passed before the Knesset is dissolved has significantly delayed the process of drafting the dissolution law in the Knesset House Committee on Wednesday.

The Yisrael Beytenu and Labor coalition parties insisted that legislation to speed up and streamline the development of a metro system for central Israel — the so-called Metro Law — be passed before the Knesset is dissolved.

However, as internal fighting dragged on into the late evening, the opposition demanded that MK Amichai Chikli’s defector status be revoked in exchange for its support. Chikli, elected to the Knesset as a member of outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, was ousted from the party for opposing the coalition, preventing him from standing in an existing Knesset faction in the next election.

Reversing Chikli’s designation as a “defector” could allow him and his renegade MPs Idit Silman and Nir Orbach to split from the party as a separate faction and join opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, while taking allocated election funding with them. It is unclear whether such a step would be legally permissible.

Yisrael Beytenu and Labor tried to agree to the deal, but Yamina and Justice Minister Gidon Sa’ar’s New Hope party bitterly rejected it, ultimately derailing efforts to pass the resolution bill on Wednesday night.

“The fact that Amichai Chikli is willing to sacrifice the subway that will transform the lives of millions of Israelis in order to advance his personal political career is the pinnacle of misery and opportunism,” Yamina said in a statement. “Any Israeli stuck in an unnecessary traffic jam will know it’s because of Amichai Chikli.”

Sa’ar stormed into the Likud over the proposal.

“Surrendering to blackmail in the Chikli case is a corrupt deal that violates the law and the decision of the Knesset committee that voted on the matter,” Sa’ar tweeted. “This ‘palliation’ will also be an incentive to break out of the parties the day after the election. The opposition has been campaigning for more defectors and unfortunately the coalition is now giving it the stamp of approval.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a parliamentary group meeting in the Knesset, June 27, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As a result, Yisrael Beytenu said it would not withdraw its objections to the law and threatened to delay the dissolution process throughout Thursday.

If the Knesset is not dissolved by midnight Thursday, long-standing laws applying Israeli law to Jews living in the West Bank would expire, a situation that could have serious legal ramifications.

If the Knesset is dissolved before midnight on Thursday, this so-called Settlers Law will be automatically extended by six months during the interim government’s term of office.

Meanwhile, the opposition Joint List of mostly Arab parties filed a series of objections to the Dissolution Law, specifically aimed at further delaying the process in hopes that the Knesset would not be dissolved until after the Settlers Law expired.

Legislation designed to help Israel join the US visa-free travel program now appears dead as the opposition refuses to allow it, despite pleas from US Ambassador Thomas Nides.

A modest handover ceremony from Bennett to new interim prime minister Yair Lapid, which was scheduled for Thursday morning, will now be postponed to Friday, provided the Knesset is successfully dissolved at midnight on Thursday.

The imminent dissolution of the Knesset was agreed between Lapid and Bennett last week after several rebellions by coalition MKs that have undermined the government’s ability to legislate and govern effectively.

The elections, if called, will be Israel’s fifth in three and a half years and will cost an estimated NIS 2.4 billion.

The coalition aims to hold the elections on November 1, while the opposition prefers October 25, when ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are still on vacation and therefore more likely to vote.

The dissolution bill will be presented to the Knesset plenary with the election date set for November 1, along with an opposition objection requesting October 25. The matter will be decided by a vote in the Knesset plenary when the bill goes to the final reading.

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