In blow to Netanyahu, Arab MKs help anti-Bibi bloc win control of Knesset

Anti-Bibi bloc aims to replace his ally, speaker Levin * PM says Bennett replacing him would be "absurd."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost control of the Knesset and may soon also lose the Prime Minister’s Office, after the anti-Netanyahu bloc defeated him in a key vote in the parliament on Monday.
Netanyahu’s opponents succeeded in passing their proposal for control over the powerful Knesset Arrangements Committee, which runs the Knesset until a government is formed, thanks to the support of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party led by MK Mansour Abbas.
The proposal of Yesh Atid faction chairman Meir Cohen passed by a vote of 60 to 51. Party sources said their victory came following a successful meeting earlier Monday between their leader, Yair Lapid, and Abbas.
“I am thankful to my partners,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “The victory in the vote on the Arrangements Committee is another step on the way to a unity government in Israel.”
In exchange for his support, Lapid offered Ra’am a spot on the Knesset Finance Committee, chairmanship of a committee on fighting violence in the Arab sector and a deputy Knesset speaker post. But in an interview with Channel 12, Abbas said the posts did not influence his decision.
“We wanted to keep our role holding the balance of power in the Knesset and show we weren’t in anyone’s pocket,” said Abbas, who added he was also angered by the constant attacks on him by Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, a key member of Netanyahu’s bloc.
Yesh Atid officials said their first goal would be to bring to a vote having Cohen replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who is the MK closest to Netanyahu. The Lapid bloc’s majority on the committee could help it advance anti-Netanyahu legislation, including a bill that would prevent a candidate who is under criminal indictment from forming a government.
The Arrangements Committee will decide the makeup of the temporary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Finance Committee, which provide oversight over Netanyahu and his government. It will also appoint the Knesset speaker’s deputies, which will allow starting the process of electing a new president.
Netanyahu thought he would have a majority on the committee, due to an agreement between Likud and Yamina. According to the deal, Yamina would receive a second slot on the committee at the expense of Likud, in return for its votes. But then, the Ra’am MKs, who were angered by Netanyahu’s deal with Yamina, came into the plenum and defeated the Likud proposal by a vote of 60-58. That led to the vote on the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s proposal, which Yamina’s seven MKs did not attend.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has made a decision to “go with the Left,” Netanyahu said in a closed-door meeting with United Torah Judaism MKs on Monday at the Knesset. He and Bennett held a tense meeting on Monday, their fifth since Netanyahu received a four-week mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin two weeks ago.
“His feeling is that he has closed a deal over there,” a UTJ MK told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting with Netanyahu.
Earlier, Netanyahu told his Likud faction that a government led by Bennett, whose party has seven seats, would be “absurd.”
“The moment of truth for Bennett has arrived,” Netanyahu said. “He promised not to sit under Lapid, with Meretz and Labor and with the support of the Joint List. So he must stop galloping toward a left-wing government.”
In the closed-door portion of the faction meeting, Netanyahu said that what his opponents call a unity government would only bring more governmental paralysis and would be “very bad for Israel.”
Abbas said on Monday that he does not rule out enabling a government led by Bennett, just like he would not rule out enabling a government led by Netanyahu. Speaking with the emblem of Israel behind him, he said it is wrong to call his faction’s MKs supporters of terror, as Smotrich has.
Smotrich meanwhile called on Bennett to decide whether he will be with the Right or the Left. He said he did not believe that Bennett really backs a government that would rely on Ra’am, which he said identifies with Israel’s enemies.
“As soon as it is clear where everyone stands, I am sure a right-wing government of the entire nationalist bloc can be formed,” Smotrich told his faction meeting.
New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar told his faction that he would not enable Netanyahu to form a government, or initiate a new Knesset race or a direct election for prime minister.
Sa’ar spoke for the first time since Netanyahu called on him to “come home to Likud” in a speech in Ramat Gan on Friday.
“Our view hasn’t changed,” Sa’ar said. “There are two alternatives: A right-wing government led by someone else [besides Netanyahu] or a unity government that will allow New Hope to maintain its worldview. Both options are better than new elections, whether for the Knesset or just for prime minister.”
In an effort to build a coalition, Lapid met on Monday with the heads of Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Meretz and the Joint List, as well as Ra’am.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his Blue and White faction that continued political uncertainty would be dangerous for Israel.
“If we don’t unite among us, we won’t be strong against our enemies,” Gantz said.
Idan Zonshine and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.