Amir Peretz, the most senior member of Knesset, will be assigned as a temporary Knesset speaker in order to hold a vote for a new speaker on Thursday, the High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday night after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigned earlier in the day.
The court convened late Wednesday night to decide what should be done after Edelstein rejected the High Court's demand that he hold a vote for his successor by Wednesday and instead resigned, paving the way for the vote to go forward, but potentially delaying the vote until Monday since, according to the Knesset charter, the resignation only goes into effect after 48 hours.
"The judges of the High Court of Justice acted with wisdom and determination in order to lower the flames of the constitutional crisis that Edelstein created, on the one hand, and to bring about uncompromising enforcement of their judgment on the other hand," stated attorneys Yuval Yoaz and Doron Barkat, representing the New Contract Association who filed the complaint against Edelstein, in response to the ruling. "We are proud of our contribution to the rule of law.
"Hopefully, the lesson is learned and the message regarding the obligation to comply with court rulings will now be a guiding light to elected officials, as it is to all other citizens," added the attorneys.
MK Miki Zohar responded to the ruling by tweeting that the High Court was "working full time in the service of the left and the media" and called it "another shameful decision."
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that the High Court "continues to race to the wall and irresponsibly deepen the constitutional crisis that we are in the midst of."
"Over time, the Knesset will not remain indifferent to the High Court's gross interference in its affairs and it will put an end to this," warned Smotrich. "There seems to be no one in the right-wing camp who does not understand today, courtesy of the High Court, that this must happen, and quickly."
President Reuven Rivlin blasted Edelstein on Wednesday night for defying the High Court’s earlier ruling.
"Even if someone is of the opinion that the court is wrong in its conduct, whatever the disagreement between us, we must always ensure that the rules of democracy, without which we are destroyed, are upheld," Rivlin said in address to the nation. "Now that the speaker of the Knesset has resigned, I am sure that the order of the High Court of Justice will be implemented and Israeli democracy will emerge strengthened and more resilient from these testing times."
Edelstein’s decision set off a furious stream of interim High Court decisions, questions, briefs and counter-briefs as the justices and the country’s top lawyers tried to navigate their way through this constitutional crisis.
One path was for the High Court to appoint Amir Peretz, the most senior member of Knesset, to replace Edelstein, maybe even ending his speakership before the standard 48 hours expire.
This could have lead to a vote anytime between Thursday and Sunday.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon’s preferred path was for the High Court to allow Edelstein the 48 hours - during which he would maintain most of his authority - but to grant Peretz the Knesset Speaker’s authority for the sole act of scheduling a vote for a new speaker. This could also enable a vote as early as Thursday.
None of the parties seemed to think a late Wednesday night vote was realistic with the court hearing still carrying on at 9:30 p.m.
Bizarrely, the second scenario would mean that for a short period, there would effectively be two speakers of the Knesset.
Yinon told the justices, who seemed desperate for help to understand how best to technically carry out their own wishes to hold a rushed vote, that the second idea was better because it would not end Edelstein’s speakership prematurely, and was more of a “surgical” removal of only one piece of his authority.
Earlier in the day, Edelstein told the court that its ruling could lead to an unprecedented constitutional crisis, that it violated the concept of separation of powers, interfered with coalition talks and would "prolong the country's political paralysis."
He said his conscience would not allow him to carry out the court order, so he decided to quit instead.
"The Supreme Court's decision is not based on law but on one-sided, extreme analysis," Edelstein told the plenum. "The court's decision contradicts the bylaws of the Knesset. The court decision destroys the work of the Knesset…The court decision undermines the base of Israeli democracy."
Edelstein, who became the first Knesset speaker ever to quit, then closed Wednesday's session of the Knesset plenum and said it would only reconvene on Monday.
The 61 MKs in Blue and White leader Benny Gantz's bloc had intended to initiate a vote to elect Blue and White MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) as Edelstein's replacement, but it is unclear when that vote will be able to take place. Cohen served as deputy Knesset speaker in the last functional Knesset until the April 2019 election.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz blasted Edelstein's behavior.
"The parliament of Israel belongs to the citizens of Israel, and their elected representatives will fulfill the laws of Israel and the decisions of its courts, and no one is above the law," Gantz said.
Blue and White's number two, MK Yair Lapid, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "sending Yuli to burn down our democracy." He said MKs on the Right should be condemning Edelstein. Blue and White MK Moshe Ya'alon added that if Netanyahu was a private citizen, he would have been arrested by now for "inciting a rebellion."Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.