Bennett pitches direct PM election proposal to avert 3rd Knesset vote
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Bennett pitches direct PM election proposal to avert 3rd Knesset vote

Long-shot bid would likely be challenged by High Court of Justice as it would entail far-reaching reforms enacted by a caretaker Knesset

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks to Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri during a meeting with right-wing bloc parties at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks to Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri during a meeting with right-wing bloc parties at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The New Right party has presented a long-shot plan to President Reuven Rivlin to enact electoral reforms that would see direct elections for prime minister be held, in a bid aimed at averting a third round of full-blown national elections in under a year.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced Wednesday his New Right party would advance an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government in the Knesset to set up the vote. He later raised the proposal with Rivlin during a Wednesday evening meeting, as Israel appeared to slide toward yet another round of elections.

The plan envisions a direct vote for the premiership, pitting Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu against Blue and White head Benny Gantz.

Aryeh Deri’s Shas party, which first raised the idea earlier this month, is expected to support the bid, and Bennett told the media that Gantz’s Blue and White would likely also be on board.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the plan faces significant hurdles.

The proposal would likely face a formidable legal challenge from the High Court of Justice as it would entail sweeping reforms by a caretaker government during an election campaign.

Earlier this month, Deri raised the idea, saying that a direct public vote for prime minister between Netanyahu and Gantz could prevent a third, full Knesset election in a year. Netanyahu, however, was said to have rejected the move out of hand, suggesting that it would not solve the impasse. A source close to Netanyahu was quoted by the Kan public broadcaster as calling the proposal “stupid.”

According to a Channel 12 poll earlier this month, in a direct vote Netanyahu would get the support of 40 percent of Israelis, slightly more than Gantz’s 36%. The remaining 24%, almost one in four respondents, said they were undecided or that they wouldn’t show up to vote.

Israel briefly experimented with direct elections for prime minister in the 1990s — Netanyahu’s first election to the premiership, when he defeated Shimon Peres in 1996, was also Israel’s first direct election for prime minister.

However, Israel reverted back to voting for parties, rather than individuals, five years later because it proved too hard to form a coalition following the vote.

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