Lapid should thank Silman for making him PM - analysis

A look at the possible political scenarios after the coalition chairwoman’s resignation.

 Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid speaks with MK Idit Silman (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid speaks with MK Idit Silman
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

With the resignation of coalition chairwoman Idit Silman, the always-shaky coalition is more precarious than ever, having lost its majority in the Knesset. There are a number of possible outcomes from Silman’s move, but the most likely is an election later this year, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as interim prime minister for at least a few months.

The coalition and opposition are now tied, with 60 seats each. In theory, the opposition only needs to tempt one more coalition MK onto its side to form a new government without an election. Almost all of Yamina’s remaining MKs are viewed as weak links, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s perennial political partner, as the crown jewel.

However, the opposition is actually divided: 54 under the leadership of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and another six in the predominately Arab Joint List, which means the opposition leader needs to convince seven MKs to join him.

While there are more than seven right-wing coalition lawmakers, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu vowed not to be in a government led by Netanyahu and have thus far kept that promise; Yamina, which never said that, only has five MKs still in the coalition, including Bennett. Netanyahu could let someone else on the Right be in charge, but he didn’t do that in our last four-elections-in-a-row cycle.

As such, the only way to avoid an election would be for Netanyahu to convince Defense Minister Benny Gantz, with his eight-seat Blue and White faction, to yet again join a coalition with him. Gantz has been pretty bitter in this coalition and could jump ship, but Gantz would have to overcome Netanyahu having already betrayed him in 2020, and Netanyahu would probably have to promise Gantz to be prime minister first in a rotation agreement.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz sit at the government table in the Knesset plenum in this photo from 2020. The formation of the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition created an unprecedented form of government.  (credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90) THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz sit at the government table in the Knesset plenum in this photo from 2020. The formation of the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition created an unprecedented form of government. (credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)

While this looks like a recipe for an election, it is possible that not much will happen in the very short term, as the Knesset is scheduled for recess for more than a month. The coalition could decide to accept its fate and call an election, but if it doesn’t, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy does not have to convene the legislature for any consequential votes, let alone votes of no-confidence, during that period. In that case, the coalition can stay mostly dead for several weeks, which, as Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride, is “slightly alive.”

During that mostly dead period, the coalition can try to find a new 61st member, though that scenario seems highly unlikely.

The pro-Netanyahu Right has been demonizing the right-wing parties in the coalition for the past year, and for an MK to do an about-face when they can take down the coalition instead makes no political sense.

On the Left, Meretz MK Mossi Raz called “for the inclusion of the Joint List in the coalition to stop the danger” of “a corrupt ultra-nationalist government led by [Religious Zionist MKs Itamar] Ben-Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich.” However, bringing in the Joint List, which has not shown any sign of acceptance of Israel’s Jewishness like their once-fellow travelers in Ra’am, would be political suicide for Bennett’s Yamina and the other right-wing MKs in the coalition, especially if an election is on the horizon.

As such, an election in the second half of 2022 is the most likely scenario.

The coalition agreement stipulates that if anyone other than Yesh Atid brings about an election, Lapid will become prime minister. In a normal situation that would make him premier for four or five months, with some limits on his government’s ability to make decisions due to Supreme Court rulings.

However, as we saw in 2019-2020, an interim prime minister can stay in power for much longer than three months if there are serial elections – and the political map does not look significantly different now than it was then.

The irony is that while Silman said she is leaving the coalition over Jewish identity issues, with the matter of leavened foods (hametz) being allowed into hospitals on Passover being the final straw, she is ushering in a prime minister who likely does not care whether hospitalized people eat kosher for Passover, and is very liberal on religion and state issues in general.

Perhaps Lapid should send Silman flowers to thank her for making him prime minister.