Israel’s parliamentary speaker, an ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, abruptly resigned on Wednesday rather than allow a vote that would lead to his ouster as an anti-Netanyahu coalition edged closer to taking power.
The resignation of Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Knesset, was the latest in a series of rearguard political actions by Mr Netanyahu’s allies as they try to stop an unusual alliance of opposition parties from taking control of government.
Israel held its third consecutive inconclusive election in early March and Mr Netanyahu’s Right-wing bloc emerged with 58 of the 120 parliamentary seats.
However, the centre-Left opposition, led by former army general Benny Gantz, has banded together with several smaller parties to create a narrow and unsteady majority in parliament.
Mr Edelstein announced this week he would not allow a vote on a new speaker of the Knesset, saying that such a vote should only take place after a government had been formed in the wake of the election.
Mr Gantz’s bloc said the move was a nakedly political attempt to prevent the opposition from electing a new speaker. Israel’s supreme court sided with the opposition and ordered Mr Edelstein to move ahead with the vote.
Rather than comply with the court’s order, Mr Edelstein announced his resignation on Wednesday. “My conscience will not permit me to comply with the order,” he said.
Many Israelis feared that Mr Edelstein would simply ignore the court ruling, a move that would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis as the supreme court and the parliament battled for supremacy.
By resigning, Mr Edelstein stepped back from the brink but there is still huge uncertainty over whether Israel will be able to form a government or stumble into a fourth election.
“We have never seen a political crisis like this before,” Dr Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst and pollster. “We are facing an unprecedented level of political instability at the same time as a global pandemic that demands minute to minute decisions.”
A vote on a new speaker is expected late this week or early next week and it is likely an opposition figure will win.
Mr Gantz has until April 14 to form a government. He can either try to forge his unwieldy opposition coalition into a governing party or else agree to some form of unity government with Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges, remains caretaker prime minister and will have his own chance to form a government if Mr Gantz fails to assemble a majority.