Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s self-imposed deadline to appoint a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman passed on Monday without him choosing a new leader for the panel.
Netanyahu told the High Court on March 10 he would select a committee chairman by March 31 following a petition by opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Labor MKs, as well as the Movement for Quality Government.
However, a senior source in the Prime Minister’s Office said, that since the Knesset is in recess until the middle of May and the court has a discussion of the matter scheduled for April 10, appointing a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman is not a priority for Netanyahu.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) pointed out Monday morning that the Knesset House Committee must authorize the new chairman, and during the Knesset recess, committee meetings must be called at least three days in advance. Since no meeting was scheduled for this week and House Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud Beytenu) is abroad, it would be impossible for the prime minister to appoint anyone.
Speaking from Australia, where he was scheduled to address the local Friends of Likud and Betar youth movement, Levin said he heard rumors he and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin are now in the running for the new job, in addition to Hanegbi and Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah, but that Netanyahu did not contact him.
“I didn’t hide that I want the job, but I respect any decision the prime minister makes,” Levin stated. “I’m finishing my job [as coalition chairman] and I imagine [Deputy Defense Minister] Danny Danon will be sent home, so things will change. The prime minister has more room to maneuver.”
Shortly after Netanyahu set his March 31 deadline, a source close to the prime minister said Hanegbi would lead the prestigious panel, which has not had a permanent chairman since Avigdor Liberman was reinstated as foreign minister in November.
The delay in appointing a committee chairman is rooted in a disagreement between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid over who should hold the position. The two eventually agreed to a rotation between Hanegbi and Shelah, but could not decide who should go first.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein appointed himself temporary chairman of the committee and chose MKs to lead its meetings.
Last month, the Labor MKs told the High Court that Netanyahu and Edelstein are “unable to reach an agreement...
due to political coalition issues.... They are blatantly ignoring the disproportionate harm to the Knesset’s sovereignty and its job to supervise the diplomatic and security policies of the defense establishment.”
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon responded that “the current situation… has not yet reached a situation in which there is considerable damage to the fabric of parliamentary life and the fundamental values of the regime, which would justify an unusual and unprecedented intervention by the High Court in the form of an order requiring the Knesset to choose a committee chairman.”
The response to the Labor petition, which the State Attorney’s Office gave in Netanyahu’s name, pointed out that this is a political matter and says it should be worked out “in appropriate political frameworks and not in the honorable court.” As such, the response includes a request to remove the prime minister from the petition.
In addition, at the time, the response posited that since the problem will be solved by the end of the month the petition is unnecessary and the court has no reason to discuss it.