Knesset to return Monday amid storm in coalition

Disagreements in Ra'am could result in a Knesset dispersal bill passing

The eight party leaders of the 36th government coalition meet before the swearing in, June 13, 2021 (photo credit: ARIEL ZANDBERG)
The eight party leaders of the 36th government coalition meet before the swearing in, June 13, 2021
(photo credit: ARIEL ZANDBERG)

The leaders and faction heads in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition will hold a fateful meeting on Sunday to plan strategy ahead of the Knesset’s return from its spring recess on Monday.

Bennett has been trying to steady his ship since his coalition chairwoman Idit Silman announced five weeks ago that she was defecting to the opposition. Wavering Yamina MK Nir Orbach said over the weekend that he would remain in the coalition for now because he does not see how a right-wing government could be formed in the current Knesset without going to elections.

The main problem for Bennett is currently inside MK Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am (United Arab List) Party. Abbas himself said in interviews over the weekend that he would not bring the government down.

“Ra’am will not be the reason for the government being overthrown,” he told a Saudi news site. “The coalition is fragile but we will try to achieve many goals for Arab society.”

But MKs Waleed Taha and Mazen Ghanaim have said that the party’s decision to freeze its membership in the coalition due to clashes with police at al-Aksa mosque has not changed and will not change in the week ahead.

 Ra'am MK Waleed Taha at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022 (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET) Ra'am MK Waleed Taha at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022 (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

If Taha and Ghanaim continue to rebel, the Likud will bring a bill to disperse the Knesset to a vote in a preliminary reading on Wednesday, in hopes of passing it and beginning a legislative process that could lead to initiating early elections.

“If we have a majority, we will bring it to a vote, but even if Ra’am’s membership in the coalition is frozen, I assume they would still come to vote against it,” a source in Likud said.

Sources close to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said he would rather see Orbach join Silman in bringing down the government because it would make Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid the caretaker prime minister during an election. Netanyahu would want to run against Lapid, the sources said.

According to the coalition agreement, if the government is brought down by MKs from Ra’am, Bennett would remain caretaker prime minister during the election and until a new government would be formed.

In a new dispute in Yamina over the weekend, MK Shirley Pinto demanded to replace Silman as head of the Knesset Health Committee. She blamed Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked for blocking her appointment and allowing Silman to keep the committee chairmanship.

“I am staying in the coalition for now,” she said at a cultural event on Saturday in Rishon Lezion. “There is a dispute in our faction on this issue.”

Meanwhile, the coalition intends to bring only consensus bills to a vote on Mondays, when it controls the Knesset’s agenda. The first bills brought to a vote would help businesses harmed by COVID-19.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told the Channel 12 program Meet the Press on Saturday that he believes the coalition will succeed in staying in power and passing the next state budget. He will bring the budget to a vote in the cabinet on June 16, he said.

Liberman blamed the current political instability on the leaders of Hamas, Likud and the Religious Zionist Party.

“There is a coalition of [Yahya] Sinwar, Netanyahu and [Bezalel] Smotrich, who are always fanning the flames,” he said.

Aaron Reich contributed to this report