Yariv Levin elected ‘temporary’ Knesset speaker, will facilitate crucial bills

Yariv Levin, a confidant of presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was elected speaker of the Knesset on Tuesday, paving the way for a rapid legislative blitz demanded by Likud’s partners as a condition for forming their government.

Despite incoming opposition attempts to delay the vote, Levin received 64 votes in the 120-seat body, allowing him to assume the role of Knesset speaker — a role he held in 2020-2021 — and take control of the Knesset’s legislative agenda.

Protest candidate Merav Ben Ari of the Yesh Atid party received 45 votes and Hadash-Ta’al chief Ayman Odeh got five.

To satisfy demands from coalition partners, Levin is expected to immediately call votes on four key pieces of legislation: to expand the authority of the national security minister — set to be Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir — over the police force; to clear a path for a party leader serving a suspended sentence — Aryeh Deri — to helm three ministries; to enable an ultranationalist from the Religious Zionism party, expected to be party leader Bezalel Smotrich, to become an independent minister in control of West Bank building in the Defense Ministry; and to make it harder for rebel MKs to peel off from their parliamentary factions without sanction, a bill specifically desired by Likud.

With eight days left to announce a government, Netanyahu has yet to close a full coalition agreement with any of the three far-right and two ultra-Orthodox parties slated to join Likud in Israel’s most hardline government yet, although he has reached partial agreements with them.

Although Levin’s appointment is envisioned only as a temporary move to put a trusted and experienced hand in charge of swiftly passing the desired legislation, there is no formal provision for a temporary Knesset speaker. Rather, Levin has been elected in a permanent capacity, with the explicit understanding that he will quit the role shortly before swearing in the next government, and most likely become its justice minister.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu thanked Levy for his term as Knesset speaker and Levin for “this work for two weeks, or however long it will take.”

Getting straight to work to begin the legislative blitz, Levin is expected to arrange preliminary votes on the four bills demanded by Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionism, Shas, and Likud later on Tuesday.

Originally set for Monday, Levin’s election was delayed a day after the incoming opposition threatened a long filibuster. As a compromise, it was agreed to push the vote to 10 am Tuesday morning, with final results dragged out to 11 am by Levy’s insistence on manual voting.

Nevertheless, both the incoming opposition and coalition contributed to a stormy discussion preceding the vote, with mutual recriminations and inter-bloc heckling.

Incoming opposition MKs are also expected to try to hold up the legislation in committees.

Moments before announcing the vote for his replacement, Levy wished his successor good luck and made a call for maintaining the “dignity” of the plenum.

“I hope that he knows how to strike the right checks and balances in order to maintain the dignity of the legislative authority. I have great respect for this house, which is the beating heart of Israeli democracy,” Levy said.

“I hope that MKs will continue to serve all the citizens of the country with a sense of reverence and sacredness,” he added.

Taking up his new post, Levin nodded to Israelis’ desire for political stability after holding five national elections since 2019. “I will do my utmost to fulfill this task… [so] that a stable government can be formed in Israel soon,” he said.

A longtime supporter of judicial reform to limit High Court intervention in Knesset legislation, Levin added: “Considerable joint effort will be needed in order to strengthen the status of the Knesset as the legislative authority — a status that has been deeply harmed of late.”

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