Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s close confidant and former aide MK Nir Orbach told him in a stormy meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday that he does not see himself as part of his governing coalition anymore and that he would no longer vote with it, except for the Judea and Samaria emergency bill.
Orbach left the meeting in anger as Bennett aides chased after him in vain. He went home instead of to the Knesset and then released a statement criticizing the government, saying he reached the conclusion that “the coalition cannot continue to exist as it is currently led,” relying on the votes of Ra’am (United Arab List).
However, Orbach also said he opposed going to elections, that he wants there to be stability and that he would not vote for dissolving the Knesset in the week ahead. He said he would try to help the formation of a right-wing government in the current Knesset. To that end, he requested a meeting with New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar.
Yamina sources who spoke to Orbach on Monday said he promised them he would not vote for the Knesset’s dissolution for more than just one week. They said, in effect, that nothing had changed.
The earliest date elections could be held is October 25, after the fall Jewish holidays. But if the coalition can hang on until the Knesset recess begins on July 27, the election could end up happening as late as February.
In a special Knesset session with the prime minister requested by the opposition on Monday, Bennett responded to Orbach’s decision by vowing to continue fighting for his government’s survival.
“We have a week or week two to settle the problems in the coalition and then we can last a long time to continue the good we are doing,” Bennett said. “But if we don’t succeed, we won’t be able to continue.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu followed Bennett in the plenum and said the prime minister was disconnected from the public.
“Everyone around Bennett in the Prime Minister’s Office and his inner circle are leaving, week after week, just like in Yamina’s Knesset list,” Netanyahu told Bennett. “They can’t seem to stand all the good you are doing.”
The Knesset voted 54-0 to reject Bennett’s policies outlined in his speech after all the MKs in the coalition walked out to avoid giving the opposition what would have been a symbolic victory.
Netanyahu told his faction in the Knesset on Monday, the one-year anniversary since the government was sworn in, that it “is on its deathbed, receiving artificial resuscitation.”
"The time has come to return to having a real government. This government is not serious, professional or successful. Just because you sit in a cockpit doesn't make you a pilot. This government must go home."Benjamin Netanyahu
Coalition faction meetings
Earlier, the heads of the parties in the coalition took turns praising their government and reminding voters why they ousted Netanyahu. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman compared financial numbers now to those of a year ago and said the current government has succeeded more than all others.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli reached out in her faction meeting to coalition rebels Orbach (Yamina), Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz), Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am – United Arab List) and Michael Biton (Blue and White).
“I call on my friends and colleagues – Nir, Ghaida, Mazen, Michael – do not let all our great achievements go down the drain,” she said. “Do not let them confuse you, lie to you and sell you all kinds of fictions and legends. You are partners in the miracle that happened here, in this government that is so important, in this historic coalition. We all share the responsibility to ensure it continues, for the State of Israel and for the people of the State of Israel.”
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz met with Rinawie Zoabi on Monday, but no progress was reported from the meeting. Rinawie Zoabi declined to comment on the contents of the meeting when asked by the press at a Meretz faction meeting.
“Every MK in the coalition should understand the responsibility on our shoulders and vote according to the decisions of the coalition,” Horowitz said in a reference to Rinawie Zoabi, without saying her name. “The mandate an MK receives is not personal. It belongs to the party.”
Ra’am head Mansour Abbas told the Knesset Channel that “there is still time” and “we will find a solution” to the coalition’s multiple crises.
He has not called upon Ghanaim to quit, only to engage in soul-searching and put the national good ahead of his personal interests. Ghanaim told Channel 12 on Monday that he would not resign.
There were only going to be four votes on bills in the Knesset on Monday, none of which were controversial. However, because the coalition lacks a majority and the opposition won’t back any of their bills, all the votes were canceled.
Amichai Chikli, who was the first MK to rebel against the coalition, formally appealed to the Jerusalem District Court on Monday, asking it to cancel the Knesset House Committee’s decision to declare him a defector and prevent him from running for the next Knesset with an existing Knesset faction.