Biden Is Due in Israel on July 13. Will Bennett’s Gov’t Last That Long?
Coalition dissidents can’t agree on whether to hold an early election or replace the coalition without going to the polls
In recent months, several members of Israel’s governing coalition, one after another, have threatened its stability. Some left the coalition and joined the opposition while others decided to violate coalition discipline and refuse to back government bills that contradict their party’s ideology.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government comprises one of the most fragile coalitions in the state’s history.
It was formed in June last year, after four rounds of elections and failed attempts to form a government, with 61 out of the 120 MKs (the minimum needed for a majority), divided among eight parties along the whole political spectrum.
This has resulted in several internal conflicts due to the conflicting perspectives and ideologies of the coalition parties and members.
In the most recent blow to the government, MK Nir Orbach, a member of Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, announced on Monday that he was no longer part of the coalition, and that, with a few specific exceptions, he wouldn’t vote for its bills.
Orbach added, however, that he wouldn’t vote for the dissolution of the Knesset either.
Back on April 6, MK Idit Silman, also a member of Yamina, defected from the coalition and joined the opposition, depriving the government of its majority in the Knesset.
On May 19, MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from the left-wing Meretz party, resigned from the coalition, reducing it to 59 lawmakers. Three days later she retracted her resignation. However, she has recently voted with the opposition.
Meanwhile, MK Michael Biton, a member of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, on Monday renewed his previous boycott of voting with the government.
Bennett acknowledged in the Knesset that the government might collapse “within a week or two,” as it has only 59 legislators.
For the government to fall, one of two things must happen.
Forming a new government without an election would require an absolute majority of 61 lawmakers voting in favor of a “constructive vote of no-confidence” in the government and for a particular MK to be prime minister, presumably opposition leader and former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.
However, several legislators wish to bring the government down but do not want Netanyahu to return to power.
Another possibility is for a majority of MKs to vote to dissolve the Knesset, in which case, a caretaker government would be in place until an election is held. According to the coalition agreement, if the right-wing bloc within the Bennett government brings it down, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would be caretaker prime minister for at least four and a half to five months, until an election is held and a new government is formed.
Several MKs within the Bennett government want to replace the government but do not want an early election because polls show they are unlikely to be re-elected.
Dr. Batia Siebzehner, a fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line there is no way to predict what will happen next and how much time the coalition has left.
Every day, every hour, things can change, she said, “so to predict a span of time is absolutely incorrect from my point of view. Nobody knows, and nobody has real information about how people will react in the next two hours.”
It is obligatory, per the coalition agreements, that all coalition members support government decisions. This is fundamental.
Zohar Tal, a political analyst and chairman of the New Hope party’s Tel Aviv branch, believes the government is close to collapse.
New Hope belongs to the coalition and is led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a former member of the Likud party.
In the last few weeks, explained Tal, left-wing participants within the coalition voted against the government. “That’s totally unacceptable,” he said.
“It is obligatory, per the coalition agreements, that all coalition members support government decisions. This is fundamental,” he stressed.
One way for the government to keep going, Tal continued, would be for MKs Zoabi and Mazen Ghanaim of the United Arab List (Ra’am), the two coalition lawmakers who on June 6 voted against the government bill to renew the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank, quit the Knesset. In that case, “the coalition could stabilize and keep on going. That’s the preferred scenario,” he said.
If they don’t step down, Tal continued, there might be a majority to pass a bill for the Knesset to dismiss itself. In such a case, an election would probably be held in the fall.
MK Yael Ron Ben-Moshe, a member of Blue and White, told The Media Line the party is committed to supporting the continued existence of the government.
“This government is doing excellent things for Israeli society and the State of Israel. I and the Blue and White party will do what we can to continue this work,” she said.
Tal discussed the possibility of a “construction vote of no-confidence.”
There is a theoretical option to form a new government without dismissing the Knesset, he explained. However, that would require 61 votes for the replacement government.
Since the mostly Arab, six-MK Joint List opposes the Bennett government but also opposes Netanyahu, said Tal, “Netanyahu must seek more votes within the current coalition in order to reach a majority. Currently, he does not have these votes.”
When asked whether New Hope might join the Likud in a new coalition, Tal said that despite the “fake news” being spread around Israeli media, there have been no negotiations between the two parties.
“I don’t see that our voters, many of whom left the Likud in order to start something new, would want to bring Netanyahu back to office,” he said.
If Netanyahu steps aside, he continued, “That is a different story. It will bring back stability to the Israeli political system. Personally, I don’t think that he is capable of such an act.”
We have not previously disqualified the Likud party as a party, and we do not disqualify entire publics
Ron Ben-Moshe from Blue and White, a party that previously formed a coalition with the Likud and Netanyahu, responded to the same question, saying, “We have not previously disqualified the Likud party as a party, and we do not disqualify entire publics.”
However, she said, “There is currently no political coalition on our agenda other than the one we are in.”
Concerning the United Arab List, the first independent Arab party to be part of a government coalition, Siebzehner believes that even if the government falls, Ra’am will not “disappear from the political scene.”
Even if it is not an active member of the next coalition, she said, it will probably be able to reach agreements about supporting the coalition from outside.
Siebzehner explained that considering the division of groups in the Israeli society, the Arab parties, one way or another, will have influence, either inside or outside the coalition.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that US President Joe Biden will visit Israel on a Middle East tour in which he will also visit the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
The visits are to take place from July 13 to 16, but the Israeli government may not survive until then.
However, Siebzehner said that even if the government falls before Biden’s tour, “It will not interrupt Biden’s visit because there will be a government, even if it is a transitional government.”
Tal added that typically, no major policy decisions are made by a caretaker government, “so I think that if it happens [that the government falls], President Biden’s visit will not bring any astonishing news to the Middle East.”
I think that Biden needs the visit for his domestic position in the States and he’s trying to show that he’s doing something for the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict
In any case, said Siebzehner, “I don’t believe that Biden will leave here [Jerusalem] with a clear arrangement or a clear commitment by Israel to specific measures.
“I think that Biden needs the visit for his domestic position in the States,” she explained, “and he’s trying to show that he’s doing something for the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. Maybe the very fact of his visit itself will have influence in other countries in the area.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Lapid insisted that even if the government collapses, Biden will visit Israel, saying that “the president will be here no matter what.
“He has been a true friend of Israel all his life. I’m sure the president’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia will have a lasting impact,” Lapid said.