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Knesset parliament speaker resigns as coronavirus crisis infects Israeli politics

Yuli Edelstein has resigned [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 March, 2020

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Israel's parliamentary speaker Yuli Edelstein resigned on Wednesday.

Israel's parliament speaker resigned Wednesday after seven years on the job rather than complying with a Supreme Court order to convene a vote on his replacement.

Yuli Edelstein had suspended parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus. But opponents accused him of blocking a vote after his right-wing bloc failed to win a majority in March 2 elections.

He dismissed a Supreme Court call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and that sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with the Supreme Court chief justice ordering him to hold a vote. With other top members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party urging him to defy the order, he responded that he would “not agree to an ultimatum” and resigned instead.

“The Supreme Court decision destroys the work of the Knesset. The Supreme Court decision marks a harsh and arrogant intervention of the judicial branch in the affairs of the elected legislative branch," Edelstein charged in his last appearance as speaker.

Read more: Israel's Netanyahu offers to step down next year in unity deal

He said he would step down so as not to allow Israel to “descend to anarchy” and delove to civil war.

The showdown marked the height of an ever-deepening standoff Netanyahu's opponents and supporters in the wake of the country's third inconclusive election in less than a year and against the backdrop of a series of emergency executive measures enacted to quell the spread of the new virus.

Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the election earlier this month, but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, won only the support of 58 lawmakers — leaving his right-wing bloc three seats short of the required majority in Parliament.

Opposition leader Benny Gantz’s majority bloc is deeply divided along ideological lines and unlikely to band together to form an alternative government. But they are determined to oppose Netanyahu and seem willing to cooperate in parliament. They are expected to win a vote to nominate Meir Cohen of the centrist Blue and White party as Edelstein's replacement.

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