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Israel’s ruling coalition has lost its majority. Now what?

Apr 6, 2022 | Ahron Shapiro

Yamina MK Idit Silman has precipitated a coalition crisis. Photo: Wikipedia
Yamina MK Idit Silman has precipitated a coalition crisis. Photo: Wikipedia

The surprise announcement on Wednesday morning, April 6, in Israel by Coalition Leader Idit Silman of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s own Yamina party that she would leave the Coalition (but remain a Member of Knesset) means that the Government of Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid no longer has a parliamentary majority. Both the Government and Opposition now hold 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

While this does not mean the Government will fall, it does mean that it will be harder for the Government to pass legislation and this will be especially true of legislation promoted by Coalition parties on the Left – Labor and Meretz – and probably the Arab Ra’am party as well.

It has also increased pressure to find one more defector. Since the Bennett- Lapid Government was formed, two Yamina MKs have left the Coalition: Amichai Chikli, who bailed at the very start, and now Idit Silman. Under the current Knesset system, Yamina can take steps to prevent two rebel MKs from running in the next election, but when three MKs are involved, they are not necessarily bound in the same way.

At the Jerusalem Post, Lahav Harkov says that the timing of the announcement just before Passover means that the Government can stumble on for some weeks without much of an impact, since the Knesset will be on recess anyway. But it’s still “mostly dead”, and she sees early elections in the cards in the coming months. Under the Coalition agreement, Lapid will replace Bennett in the event of early elections except for those called by Lapid’s Yesh Atid party itself – so according to Harkov, Israel will probably see a new prime minister sooner than expected. The Jerusalem Post has also published an article outlining four potential scenarios to emerge from the crisis.

On Twitter, Ha’aretz political analyst Anshel Pfeffer says that the Likud’s road to a new government without having to go to elections would be difficult, unless Defence Minister Benny Gantz is able to cobble together a deal between his Blue and White party and Likud again. But, he adds, it’s not clear that the Opposition is eager to go to elections just yet either. Elections, if they fail to produce a majority, could lead to open-ended caretaker governments, as happened in three elections before the current Government was formed following a fourth, except with Lapid as the prime minister this time rather than previous Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. I’ve combined his Tweets into one flowing text as follows:

Now the government has lost its majority there are numerous political scenarios. For now, it can’t be removed from office and neither can the Knesset be dissolved and elections held as the opposition doesn’t have a majority either. It depends on whether there are more defectors.

Even if there are more defectors, Netanyahu is still extremely unlikely to reach the necessary 61 MKs needed to form a new government under him. A likelier scenario is getting to 61 to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections but for now, there are at most 60 in favor, if that.

For now the government can soldier on without a majority until there’s a majority for a different government or for elections. It won’t be able to pass legislation but it has a budget already and doesn’t have to pass a new until March ‘23. That’s the likeliest scenario for now.

Even though there are now 60 MKs in opposition, Netanyahu needs seven more defectors to become PM in this Knesset as 6 opposition members are Joint List who will never support him. Hard to see how he gets those seven defectors. For now a very remote scenario.

With 60 opposition MKs it would seem just one more is needed for dissolving the Knesset and holding elections but that’s not so simple either. Not every opposition MK necessarily wants to face voters right now. And there’s another issue with early elections. Who is PM meanwhile?

Under the coalition agreement, if the government falls due to defections from Bennett’s bloc, Lapid becomes caretaker PM until a new government is formed. As we saw very recently, caretaker PMs can hold on for a very long time. Many MKs from right and left want to prevent this.

And then there’s the possibility of a different candidate who could get 61 MKs in this Knesset, without an election. That would be Gantz, who detests Lapid and Bennett and hasn’t burned his bridges with either Likud or the Haredi parties. He could conceivably form a government.

The scenarios: 1) Lame-duck government soldiers on until March ’23; 2) Knesset dissolved, new election with Lapid as caretaker PM; 3) Knesset dissolved, new election with Bennett as caretaker PM; 4) Gantz forms government in current Knesset; 5) Netanyahu forms government in current Knesset

I should add a possible sixth scenario. As Netanyahu will struggle to get 61 MKs, a different Likud MK could form a government. Extremely unlikely that he’ll allow another Likud MK to do so and that if he does, those who currently veto him as PM will agree to join. Still a scenario.

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