New law permits PM to declare war by himself

Critics attacked the consolidation of power in the prime minister's hands.

May 2, 2018 06:17
2 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Va

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 2018. (photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)

A law approved on Monday would permit a prime minister to declare war by himself, or take a step that could lead to war, if he also holds the Defense portfolio, legal sources in the Knesset said on Tuesday.

In the past, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak were all prime minister and defense minister simultaneously. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also held multiple portfolios and has toyed with the idea of firing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in recent months when they have disagreed on key issues.

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The bill was initially intended to transfer power to declare war from the cabinet as a whole to the security cabinet, a move designed to prevent leaks, which had the support of the coalition and leading figures in the opposition. There was agreement in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a majority of the security cabinet would be needed to make such decisions.

But at the last minute, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) succeeded in passing an amendment giving the prime minister and the defense minister the right to decide on their own in extreme circumstances. Sources said that Netanyahu requested the amendment and that government MKs voted for it observing coalition discipline, against their wishes.

Because it was a proposed Basic Law, the bill needed be passed with the support of an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs. It passed by a vote of 62 to 41 with the amendment included.

Dichter said the bill had no connection to current security tensions and that it gave the prime minister the flexibility to function better. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) said she did not believe a prime minister would make such a fateful decision by himself as part of a political maneuver.

But Zionist Union MK Omer Bar Lev said the law is illegitimate, because it does not define the extreme circumstances needed to allow the prime minister and defense minister to decide on their own.

“I have been talking to people who have been in the security cabinet and they have been telling me that this new law is absolutely crazy,” Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah said. “We won’t be able to bring back the soldiers who, God forbid, will lose their lives in a war because one man took advantage of this law and made the wrong decision.”

Also on Monday, the Knesset voted 64 to 50 to advance but not yet pass into law the controversial nation-state bill.

The bill would set into the Basic Law the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its homeland, with Jerusalem as its capital, Hebrew as its language, and the state’s symbols as its symbols. The legislation would also reinforce the principle of Israel being the home for the ingathering of the Jewish exiles.

Likud MK Bennie Begin, who has his own bill that would do more to protect the rights of Arab citizens, voted against the legislation, which was sponsored by Likud MK Avi Dichter.

Speaking at an event at the Sharia court in Sakhnin, in the Western Galilee, Shaked said the nation-state bill would not harm Arab citizens. She said the government was taking significant steps to invest in the Arab sector.

Many changes are expected in the bill before it will be brought for further voting.

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