Sa'ar, Michaeli: Herzog should not extend Netanyahu's mandate

Benjamin Netanyahu has until the end of the week to form a coalition or he loses his mandate to become prime minister.

 Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu is seen receiving the mandate to form Israel's next government from Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu is seen receiving the mandate to form Israel's next government from Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

President Isaac Herzog should deny prime-minister elect and Likud Party head Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to receive a two-week extension to form a government, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Labor Party leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli argued on Tuesday.

The initial 28 days awarded to Netanyahu will expire on Sunday. The Likud has signed partial deals so far with Otzma Yehudit, Noam and the Religious Zionist Party (RZP), but has yet to sign with Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Netanyahu has not officially requested the additional two weeks but is widely expected to do so.

“The Netanyahu bloc’s request to replace the Knesset speaker shows that the government has been constructed. Netanyahu’s request from the president for additional days for this purpose is a trick,” Sa’ar wrote on Twitter.

“The goal: passing problematic personal laws according to his partners’ demands prior to forming the government. This is not why the law enabled the president to give an extension. The president should deny Netanyahu’s request,” he wrote.

Gideon Sa'ar at the announcement of a merger between New Hope and Blue and White, July 10, 2022.   (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)Gideon Sa'ar at the announcement of a merger between New Hope and Blue and White, July 10, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

"The goal: passing problematic personal laws according to his partners' demands prior to forming the government."

Justice Minister Gideon Saar

Michaeli put out a statement with similar arguments.

“In my opinion, this request is another sophisticated political ploy by the prime minister-designate,” she said.

“This request, if submitted, is not intended to allow fevered negotiations between the factions of the house to continue. Its real purpose is to pass far-reaching legislative changes, which in practice change the system of governance in Israel and, in addition, give a green light to governmental corruption, damage the powers of the court and profoundly erode the checks and balances between the branches of government,” Michaeli said.

“In this way, through a legislative blitz over those 14 days, MK Netanyahu seeks to severely damage the democratic character of the country – and without him bearing prime ministerial responsibility for the enactment of these draconian laws,” the Labor leader wrote. “In any case, given the aforementioned time frame, it will not be possible to hold substantive public and parliamentary debate regarding those constitutional proposals.”

How is Netanyahu progressing in forming his coalition?

The Likud announced late Monday night that it had finally amassed the 61 signatures it needed in order to force Knesset speaker MK Mickey Levy to convene the Knesset plenum in order to choose a new speaker. UTJ had refrained from giving its signatures due to disagreements in the negotiations, but the sides made “significant progress” on Monday night and UTJ relented.

Levy set the vote for 4:00 p.m. next Monday.

“Unfortunately, according to reports in the media, the unusual request to choose a Knesset speaker not on the day of the government’s swearing in, is intended to enact legislation that will enable people who were convicted and sentenced to a suspended jail sentence, to serve as ministers,” Levy said in a statement late Monday night.

“Despite the enormous pain knowing that this is the intention of the developing coalition, I will act responsibly and respect the will of the voters – and the plenum will be convened according to law and the High Court’s ruling on the topic,” he said.

RZP MK Simcha Rothman criticized Levy for delaying the vote.

“The High Court convened the plenum using a special directive on a Thursday when the Left wanted to replace a Knesset speaker,” Rothman wrote on Twitter, referring to an incident in 2020 at the start of the 23rd Knesset when outgoing speaker MK Yuli Edelstein refused to convene the plenum in order to hold the vote for his replacement despite being directed to do so by the High Court.

“The ‘statesmanlike’ Mickey Levy is delaying and passing time despite the ability to replace the speaker today or tomorrow,” he said.

“These people do not know what democracy, statesmanship or respectful behavior is. [They are] an opposition to the state,” Rothman wrote.

Levy was referring to Shas chairman MK Arye Deri, who was sentenced in January to a 12-month suspended jail sentence for tax offenses as part of a plea bargain. If Central Election Committee Chairman High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit rules that his actions included moral turpitude, the current law says that Deri cannot serve as a minister for seven years.

Shas MK Yakov Asher, therefore, already put forward a proposal to change the law so that it only applies to actual and not suspended jail sentences, and Shas is demanding to pass the law prior to the government’s swearing in.

The coalition will pass a number of additional laws before the swearing in, including one demanded by presumed incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that will grant him greater control over the Israel Police.

The coalition may also erase the law that the previous coalition passed enabling four MKs to break away from a party in order to form an independent one. The previous coalition’s goal was to encourage disgruntled Likud members to break away. There are currently a number of Likud MKs who are unhappy with Netanyahu’s conduct. Erasing the law will cause it to revert back to what it was previously, where a third of the party’s MKs are necessary to break away. The Likud won 32 seats in the election, so this would eliminate the danger of any splintering.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee convened on Tuesday to discuss the formation of four new interim committees: one each to deal with the Deri law and the Ben-Gvir law, an interim Aliyah and Integration Committee, and a special committee comprised of members of both the interim Finance Committee and interim Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in order to approve specific defense-related budget changes. The Arrangements Committee did not hold a vote on the formation of any of the committees.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv said at the committee meeting that Netanyahu and his partners wished to enact a “blitz of personal legislation according to the demands of Deri and Ben-Gvir.” Kariv later called on the State Attorney’s Office to consider canceling the plea deal it reached with Deri, which he claimed “ended up being a false pretense,” as it was based on the expectation that the Shas leader would not rejoin politics.

“If he [Deri] is attempting to escape a judicial decision about moral turpitude by enacting personal laws, he probably has a reason to do so,” Kariv said.•