Fate of Israel's government to be decided next week with Orbach ultimatum

Nir Orbach told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he will insist on the government no longer being dependent on Ra'am.

 MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman talk during a vote on the "Flag Bill" at the Knesset on June 1, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman talk during a vote on the "Flag Bill" at the Knesset on June 1, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The week ahead will determine whether Israel is en route to an election in the fall, a new government in the current Knesset, or the same government continues to fight for its life against all odds, sources close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Thursday.

Bennett met with Yamina MK Nir Orbach, a close confidant over the past decade, who will decide in the week ahead whether to bring down Bennett’s government. The prime minister, who initiated the Thursday night meeting, asked Orbach for more time.

Orbach told Bennett that he will insist on the government no longer being dependent on the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, and its MKs no longer being able to paralyze the work of the Knesset.

Orbach also demanded that MKs Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am) and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz), who voted against the Judea and Samaria emergency bill, resign from the Knesset. Despite pressure from their party leaders, neither of them was willing to resign as of Thursday night.

If his demands are not met, Orbach wants to initiate the formation of a right-wing government in the current Knesset. But for that to happen, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar would have to agree to join a government led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 7, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 7, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Channel 12 reported on Thursday night that in talks with the Likud, Sa’ar demanded that he become caretaker prime minister if an election would be initiated, and Netanyahu refused. The report said Sa’ar wanted the alternate prime minister title to deter Netanyahu from using him to oust the current government and then initiate an election.

Orbach prefers enabling the formation of a right-wing government in the current Knesset over initiating an election, even if he would receive a reserved slot on the Likud list in return for bringing the government down. Orbach is coordinating strategy with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who strongly opposes initiating an election.

In a meeting with Bennett at 2 a.m. on Monday night, Orbach reportedly told him that “the Arabs in the coalition are only looking for an ATM, not a civil vision.” He reportedly said that he gave the government a chance and paid a price for it, but “I’ve been left alone and there is no point in continuing.”

The Elkin option

One possibility that could help enable the formation of a Netanyahu-led government would be the departure from the cabinet of New Hope minister Ze’ev Elkin, a fierce critic of Netanyahu.

A month and a half ago, Elkin was asked by Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid about the vacant post of Jewish Agency chairman. He responded that they should come back to him with a serious offer to be the government’s candidate for the post.

Since then, Elkin had not heard back. But the possibility of Elkin receiving the post was leaked on Thursday to Israel Hayom. In talks with at least one member of the Jewish Agency selection committee, Elkin expressed interest in the post.

But sources in the selection committee said that amid the political turmoil in Israel, they want a chairman who would be seen as professional and apolitical and not someone like Elkin who may not get along with a possible Likud-led government.

The Agency’s Board of Governors is set to select a new chairman when they meet on July 10.