Yair Lapid’s decision to head to an election was made to ensure that the West Bank laws do not expire, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explained on Monday night, because the Knesset’s dispersal automatically extends them until after the next election.
Bennett pulled the trigger when he understood that rebel MK Nir Orbach had made a decision to vote in favor of the Knesset’s dissolution, for this exact reason, and framed the decision as the responsible thing to do, so as not to let the country descend into chaos
Bennett and Lapid reasoned that if the Knesset was going to fall in any case in order to pass the West Bank laws, they might as well take credit for being the responsible side before the opposition did.
From a political standpoint, the situation this week was similar to the days leading up to the vote on the IDF scholarship bill that passed into law on May 24.
During that debate, the coalition insisted that it was going through with the vote even though they did not have a majority in the Knesset, as Ra’am declined to participate in the vote. Coalition MKs argued that if the opposition choose to strike down the law, it proves that their politics were more important than benefits for Israeli soldiers.
The coalition held out until the end, and the opposition was forced to fold. Defense Minister Benny Gantz agreed to raise the benefits slightly so as to let the opposition off the hook and to paint it as their own victory.
West Bank bill
This week the coalition again did not have a majority for a bill connected to security, due to opposition from within Ra’am, and this time Meretz as well. It again claimed that the opposition was acting irresponsibly and was willing to sacrifice core issues (settler safety) for political gain. The opposition again argued that the coalition lacked legitimacy, since it could not muster a majority for the issue.
The coalition had a strategy in its pocket that had proven itself: hold on as long as possible, accuse the opposition repeatedly of putting politics first, and offer a small concession in order to allow the opposition to save enough face in order to support the bill. Why not try again?
Furthermore, by revealing their cards on Monday, the tables turned against Bennett and Lapid. Since the bill has now landed in the Knesset Committee led by Orbach, the opposition can try to control the pace of the Knesset’s dispersal and try to use this for its advantage, for example, in order to attempt to form an alternate government.
This time around, the two decided that the stakes were too high, as they were not willing to risk the chance of either losing the Knesset due to an opposition vote, or having the West Bank fall into a chaotic legal limbo. Similar to his justification for forming a government with Lapid contrary to his campaign promises, Bennett argued that he was taking the high road by putting the country’s stability first.
Lapid and Gantz went a step further this week and argued that the decision was also wise politically, since they will be able to come back stronger after the election, this time with greater public support and without rebel MKs.
However, polls have consistently predicted that the current coalition parties will become weaker, reaching only 55 or 56 mandates.
Four months is an eternity in political terms. Time will tell if the decision will benefit the coalition parties electorally. Four months from now, Bennett and Lapid might discover that their decision to give up in advance on the political hardball turned out to have been a mistake.