Australia/Israel Review


Anatomy of a dissolution

Jun 28, 2022 | BICOM

Outgoing PM Naftali Bennett with some of the key players in his politically diverse cabinet (Image: Flickr)
Outgoing PM Naftali Bennett with some of the key players in his politically diverse cabinet (Image: Flickr)

On June 20, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that they would bring a vote to disperse the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, leading to new elections later this year – likely on October 25. 

In an effort to keep their commitment to an alternating premiership under the coalition agreement, Lapid will be appointed the Prime Minister of the transitional government, while Bennett will serve as Alternate Prime Minister with responsibility for the Iran portfolio.

At the press conference, Bennett gave an impassioned speech, noting “We moved to a culture of ‘us’… we believed we could put differences aside and work together for a greater cause.”

He laid out his Government’s achievements: “We stabilised the economy, we oversaw the wave of COVID without one day of lockdown, we brought back the unemployed, the country returned too, the campaign against Iran continued, we prevented the renewing of the JCPOA without burning our relationship with the US. On the southern border we’ve seen the quietest year in decades, we restored deterrence and stopped the suitcases of money for Hamas and their remilitarisation. We did not allow Hamas to dictate the events in Jerusalem… we restored national pride. We also dealt with the murderous wave of terror by sending the Shin Bet and police to work day and night to stop the terrorists.”

Lapid praised Bennett for “putting the country before his personal interest.” He called Bennett “a vital Israeli leader, innovative and brave.”

Lapid added: “What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity, not to let dark forces tear us apart from within. We must remind ourselves that we love one another, love our country, and that only together will we prevail.”

Lapid also said that irrespective of the upcoming elections, the challenges Israel faces as a country could not wait. “We must address the cost of living, we must wage the battle against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and stand up against the forces that are threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country.” 

 

Background to the breakup

The ruling eight-party coalition formally lost its narrow 61-59 majority in April when Idit Silman, the coalition chairperson and a member of Bennett’s own Yamina (“rightward”) party, left the coalition. 

There were further warning signs in May after the Government needed a compromise with the opposition over legislation to award academic scholarships to IDF combat veterans – highlighting the Government’s inability to pass security-related laws independently.

The coalition’s fault lines were also exposed when two of its members, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of the Meretz party and Mazen Ghanaim of the Ra’am party, voted against a bill to extend Israeli civil law to the West Bank. 

On Friday, June 17, Bennett was told by Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara that the West Bank civil law bill could not be bypassed or extended beyond its June 30 deadline without a Knesset vote. 

This law has been extended every five years since 1967, but the opposition Likud party was not willing to give the Government any backing, even for a law it has traditionally supported. 

Justice Minister Gideon Saar of the right-wing New Hope party had earlier warned that this legislation would be a test of the coalition’s ability to govern. 

By dissolving the Knesset, the law will be automatically extended until three months into the next government’s term.

 

Yamina’s disintegration 

Bennett’s own Yamina party – which had seven seats after the last election – has disintegrated. Already, soon after the Government was sworn in a year ago, one rebel MK, Amichai Chikli, defected.

Then followed Silman, who together with her family had faced heavy pressure from right-wing activists to quit the coalition. 

The latest Yamina rebel, Nir Orbach, had issued an ultimatum for Bennett to pass the West Bank law, and also faced heavy pressure to join opposition ranks. 

Now that the Government’s end appears imminent, sources in Likud said Orbach will not receive a reserved slot on the Likud list at the upcoming election because of his hesitation, but Idit Silman will.

 

Reaction from the Opposition 

Leader of the Opposition Binyamin Netanyahu took credit for the Government’s downfall and called it the “worst government in the history of the State of Israel”.

He vowed he would form the next government and that it would be “nationalist and wide”.

Netanyahu said that the Likud was ready for elections and was confident in its ability to win, but he did not rule out the possibility of forming an alternative government in the current Knesset in order to prevent holding early elections. 

There is still some chance that Netanyahu could succeed in forming an alternate government within the current Knesset. This would happen if right-wing members of the coalition, from New Hope and Yamina, switch sides and join Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, giving it at least 61 seats.

 

Looking ahead

In the last week of June, the Knesset is expected to vote to dissolve itself and Lapid will take over as interim prime minister (unless Netanyahu succeeds in creating an alternate coalition). 

Next month US President Joe Biden will visit Israel and is likely to be received by interim Prime Minister Lapid. 

During August the Likud and Labor parties will hold their internal party primaries. 

Sept. 8 appears the likely deadline for parties to submit their candidate lists. 

The anticipated Oct. 25 election will be Israel’s fifth election in three and a half years.

© Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), reprinted by permission, all rights reserved. 

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