Yuli Edelstein was expected to be chosen as speaker of the 19th Knesset Thursday, replacing Reuven Rivlin, who was previously speaker of the 16th and 18th Knessets.
Rivlin dropped out of the race to become Knesset Speaker after reports surfaced that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not support Rivlin for the position. Rivlin's spokesman denied reports of a conversation in which the prime minister told Rivlin that he would not back him. In fact, the spokesman said, Netanyahu’s chief of staff Gil Shefer promised him on Thursday that the prime minister wants Rivlin to be speaker.
Edelstein has been talking to Likud Beytenu faction members to convince them to vote for him, and hopes to meet with all 31 of the joint list’s MKs before the coalition is formed and they vote for the next Speaker.
“He doesn’t want to disrespect Rivlin or start a big media campaign; it’s just a series of quiet meetings,” a source close to Edelstein explained.
The minister had the courtesy to wait until this Sunday, when Rivlin finished observing the shiva mourning period for his brother Eliezer, to begin the series of meetings.
A source close to Rivlin said the two-time Knesset Speaker received a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he would endorse Rivlin for the position.
“Rivlin ran in the Likud primary with the slogan ‘Our Knesset Speaker,’” the source said. “He was elected to this job. The only other person in the Likud who was elected to a specific position is the prime minister.”
Both Edelstein’s camp and Yisrael Beytenu would not comment on reports that former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman supports Edelstein, and the source close to Rivlin pointed out that part of the merger agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu is that Liberman will back anyone Netanyahu appoints.
A senior Likud source posited that, since Rivlin has made no secret of his intentions to run for president next year, and he is widely considered Netanyahu’s preferred candidate for Knesset Speaker, Edelstein is positioning himself to take Rivlin’s place next year.
Another Likud source expressed doubt that Netanyahu promised anything to Rivlin, saying the prime minister would have said so publicly if he supported the outgoing Speaker’s reelection.
He also expressed concern that Rivlin would be unnecessarily forgiving and generous to MKs who he hopes would vote for him as president.
“Knesset Speaker is a respectable job and should not just be a jumping off point to another position, like president,” Edelstein’s camp added. “Yuli, a former prisoner of Zion with 17 years of experience as an MK, is well liked by all factions of the house and is known in parliaments and Jewish communities around the world.”