Ashley Perry, adviser to the Middle East Forum Israel office and former senior Israeli government adviser, spoke to participants in a weekly Middle East Forum webinar, "Israel Insider Update" (video), on March 25.
"It has been an unprecedented day in Israeli politics. The speaker of the Knesset has formally resigned. The Supreme Court asked for the Knesset Plenum to have a vote on replacing him, which he refused to do, so he resigned," said Perry. "Some people are using word crisis, but if we look over the last year and a half, we've had many unprecedented days. We've had many, what some might call crises."
However, Perry explained, most of what happens these days is really just a battle of wits, and at the end of the day there is no substitute for a national unity government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's Blue and White, which is what the people want according to multiple surveys. "So there really is no government on the left of center and Netanyahu only has 58 [Knesset seats], so neither side really has the numbers for a government," Perry explained. "So, what we're doing now is basically everybody's playing this game of chicken to see who can get the best conditions for a national unity government, because that really is the only game in town."
As Gantz was officially given the mandate by President Reuven Rivlin to try and form a government, he has many cards to play, including creating the Arrangements Committee, which is in charge of forming interim committees like the Foreign and Defense Committee and Finance Committee, which are all headed by people within his bloc.
"The next step was to try and replace Yuli Edelstein who has been the Speaker of the Knesset for many years and he's seen as quite a consensus character. He's well liked across the system and Gantz wants to replace him with Meir Cohen of Blue and White," Perry said. "They had to go to the Supreme Court to decide whether they can hold a vote to replace the Speaker because Yuli Edelstein refused to hold such a vote. He refused to even open up the plenum for such a vote. The Supreme court demanded he do so, in the end, he resigned. Why did he resign? Basically, he resigned to buy more time. Because when he resigns today, Wednesday, it only goes into effect in 48 hours, which is Friday."
"The Knesset does not work on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So, in theory, the next time that there is even the possibility of a vote for the Speaker the Knesset is on Monday. From what I'm led to believe, and I haven't thoroughly checked the legal sources, but apparently, he can even retract his resignation before Monday. So, it's a bit of a game being played here, because in the background negotiations are ongoing. There is outreach from both sides and there are ongoing threats on the table to get things moving."
Perry explained that these processes were moving towards the step that Netanyahu fears the most. "Why does Netanyahu fear what Blue and White is doing with Edelstein and other such tactics? Because if they are able to replace Edelstein, then basically they control the Knesset agenda. The 61 MK's in Gantz's bloc can pass a crucial law that would say any MK under indictment cannot run for prime minister which would effectively bar Netanyahu from that position, and thus the ability to form the next coalition."
"There's a lot of pressure for both sides to come down and make a deal."
"So, the next four days, let's say up until Monday, are going to be very crucial. There's a lot of pressure for both sides to come down and make a deal. President Rivlin, who holds a largely ceremonial but important role, basically took to the major TV stations tonight really begging for unity."
"There are many different moving parts to this. It's a very, very tenuous situation. But I believe that at the end of the day there will be a national unity government. It just depends on the terms, like how long it will last for, who will be prime minister first and how the ministries will be shared among the parties. These issues are really important to work out ahead because there's very little trust between the two sides."