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Israel’s Coalition Whip Defects to Opposition, Opening Possibility of New Government
Israeli lawmaker Idit Silman confers with Yair Lapid on the floor of the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13, 2021. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles TImes via Getty Images)

Israel’s Coalition Whip Defects to Opposition, Opening Possibility of New Government

With Idit Silman’s defection, Binyamin Netanyahu advances his goal of leading a new right-wing government, but the road back to power is long

Idit Silman, a lawmaker for the Yamina party led by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who serves as the government coalition whip, has announced her resignation from the coalition. Silman’s defection to the opposition led by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu means that the current government has lost its majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Both the coalition and the opposition now have 60 lawmakers each, which could paralyze the current government.

Silman said in a statement on Wednesday morning that she will work to persuade other right-wing members of the current coalition government to defect with her.

“I will not abet the harming of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the people of Israel. I will continue to try to persuade my friends to return home and form a right-wing government,” Silman said. “I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Another government can be formed in this Knesset.”

Dr. Amichai Magen, head of the Diplomacy and Conflict Studies Program at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya, told The Media Line that there are several possible scenarios that could follow Silman’s resignation from the government.

One scenario, which Magen says he believes is less likely to happen but is still possible, is that Bennett will persuade Silman to retract her resignation and return to the coalition.

Another possibility is that the opposition could manage to attract at least one additional defector from the coalition, giving it a simple majority in the government.

If this occurs, says Magen: “Then the opposition will have the majority of Knesset members, and they will move very quickly to a vote of no confidence in the current government.”

We are trying to get another Knesset member that will defect from Yamina to our camp, so that we have 61 votes of no confidence, which is the first step toward forming an alternative government

A senior official for the Likud, the largest party in the opposition, which is led by Netanyahu, told The Media Line that this is exactly what they are trying to do.

“We are looking for another member of Knesset to do the same clever act,” the official said. “We are trying to get another Knesset member that will defect from Yamina to our camp, so that we have 61 votes of no confidence, which is the first step toward forming an alternative government.”

If the opposition wins a vote of no confidence, it can try to put together an alternative government.

“As we know, that is not an easy thing to achieve in Israel,” said Magen.

The opposition is looking at the possibility of forming a more homogeneous right-wing government made up of the Likud, the religious parties, the New Hope party and some members of Yamina.

“I estimate that type of coalition could be a coalition of about 68-72 members of the parliament, which would be a more stable coalition,” said Magen.

The Likud party is aiming for Netanyahu to make his way back to the premiership this way.

“That is the will of the majority of the Likud voters and the answer is yes, we don’t want to see any other prime minister that is not Netanyahu,” the Likud senior official told The Media Line.

Magen believes, however, that despite the fact that Netanyahu is the head of the largest opposition party, which gives him a natural advantage, his premiership of a potential new coalition may not necessarily be the final outcome.

“Netanyahu would have the advantage, but him being the prime minister wouldn’t be automatic – it will depend on the negotiations to form a coalition,” he added.

The fact that Netanyahu is currently on trial is also a factor, according to Magen. There currently is legislation making its way through the Knesset that would prevent any lawmaker who is under indictment over allegations of serious crimes, such as corruption, from forming a new government. But that legislation hasn’t been passed yet.

“So, as for now, if the coalition loses its majority, there won’t be any legislation that stops Netanyahu from forming a government,” said Magen.

However, he believes that there will be attempts to turn to Israel’s Supreme Court to ask the justices to determine that, due to his current legal entanglement, Netanyahu is unable to perform his public duty.

Finally, if the creation of a new coalition among the current Knesset members does not succeed, lawmakers could vote to dissolve the Knesset, sending the country into a new round of elections.

“It is back to the future. This situation would throw us back to that political turmoil,” said Magen. He explains that the strongest impact on the formation of the existing government was the fact that the Israeli public really wanted to avoid such political instability and even more elections.

“The Israeli public was tired of being sent back to the polls again and again and again,” he said. And if the current government collapses, he added: “What we thought was a success, the formation of an alternative to Netanyahu, would have been proven to be short lived, so that would potentially throw us back into the situation of political instability.”

However, it is still early to predict what will happen.

Using all of the available facts, Magen said: “It looks as if Silman’s defection was actually a well-planned back-room maneuver.”

“As Bennett was busy doing international mediation between the Russians and the Ukrainians, and dealing with the latest wave of terror attacks, it looks as if the opposition was busy successfully undermining his coalition, and making all sort of promises to Idit Silman, so that she defects,” he added.

Magen said that if the opposition succeeds in getting another one or two members of the coalition to defect, “then you may very well see a kind of a house of cards, or domino effect,” he continued.

As Bennett was busy doing international mediation between the Russians and the Ukrainians, and dealing with the latest wave of terror attacks, it looks as if the opposition was busy successfully undermining his coalition, and making all sort of promises to Idit Silman, so that she defects

The existing coalition brought together a variety of political parties, from the left to the right, secular and religious, Jewish and Arab.

“That was a heterogeneous coalition that reflected something very beautiful about Israeli society. I think that especially the inclusion of the Israeli-Arab political party in the coalition for the very first time in Israel’s history sends a very strong message of desired coexistence and unity,” said Magen.

He believes that if that experiment collapses, the lesson that will be drawn by Israeli-Arabs and other minorities is the understanding that is not possible to form a successful heterogeneous government in Israel. “I think that would be a quite unfortunate lesson,” he added.

Magen points out that this crisis could mean political death for some prominent Israeli politicians who had a real chance of becoming prime ministers, and took a great risk by putting together this coalition.

Among them are Gideon Saar, Yair Lapid, and even Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Silman is also at risk after this move. In order to join another party, or to create her own, she will need at least one other member of her existing party to join her and defect.

This is the only way permitted for Yamina to split. Then, the defectors will be able to join a different political party or to form alliances.

Otherwise, Yamina can declare Silman a renegade, and then legally she will not be able to run with a different party in the next elections.

 

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