Netanyahu wins support for bill aimed at ensuring him a 5th term

Coalition votes to adopt bill altering selection process for the prime minister, amid fears president could back rival MK over Netanyahu.

David Rosenberg,

Flash 90

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scored an important political victory Sunday, winning coalition support for a bill aimed at preventing Israel’s president from denying him a fifth term as premier.

On Sunday, the government’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation endorsed a bill, dubbed the “Sa’ar Law”, which would require the president to select the prime minister from party leaders, and prohibit the president from choosing other Knesset Members.

Netanyahu, who will become Israel’s longest serving premier next July if he remains in office, is expected to run for a fifth term as prime minister next year, despite police recommendations that he be indicted on corruption charges in three separate cases.

In February, police announced that they would recommend charges be filed against Netanyahu in both the Case 1000 and Case 2000 investigations, involving allegations of the receipt of gifts from wealthy businessmen and charges of collusion with a newspaper publisher.

Last week, investigators said they believed sufficient evidence had been collected to also indict the Prime Minister in connection with the “Case 4000” (the "Bezeq-Walla affair"), which revolves around claims Netanyahu back changes to telecommunication regulation favoring the Bezeq corporation, in exchange for favorable coverage from the Walla! media outlet. Both companies are owned primarily by businessman Shaul Elovitch.

While Netanyahu has pushed back against the allegations, some senior Likud officials fear that President Reuven Rivlin could move to deny Netanyahu the premiership after next year’s election – even if the Likud emerges as the largest faction and the only party with a viable path to a majority coalition.

Under current Israeli law, the Israeli president nominates whichever MK he believes will be most able to form a stable ruling coalition. While the president has traditionally chosen party leaders, Rivlin has the discretion to choose other MKs, allowing him to circumvent Netanyahu.

To prevent such a scenario from occurring, Netanyahu and his allies have drafted the “Sa’ar Law”, named after former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar – a popular former lawmaker who has signaled his intention to run with the Likud again in 2019, and could be tapped by Rivlin to serve as Prime Minister in Netanyahu’s place.

The bill would, if passed, require the president to choose from party leaders when selecting a candidate for the premiership.

Israel’s next general election is scheduled for November 2019, but could be held earlier if the current coalition collapses.

While the Likud-led government enjoyed a relatively wide majority, with 66 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset, last month, former Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) bolted the government, leaving the coalition with a razor-thin 61-seat majority.

With the possibility of new elections in the next few months, Netanyahu and his allies have pushed for passage of the “Sa’ar Law”, despite statements by President Rivlin indicating that he would choose the next premier based on the recommendations of party leaders.