These Three Lawmakers Are Threatening to Topple Israel's Government

The upcoming challenge will be the vote on the budget, which at the moment is the most significant threat to the coalition’s survival

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett at the new coalition's first cabinet meeting, Sunday.
Yair Lapid and Bennett at the new coalition's first cabinet meeting earlier this year. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Two of the Bennett-Lapid government’s lawmakers are teetering, making the jerry-built coalition fragile. But the opposition isn’t on any more solid ground, needing 61 votes to topple the government after having mustered only 59 in the Knesset confirmation vote, and being unable to count on the vote of Yamina MK Amichai Chikli.

In such a small coalition every vote counts and to pass laws and ensure its survival, those who head it will have to enlist the uncertain lawmakers for almost every vote. The upcoming challenge will be the vote on the budget, which at the moment is the most significant threat to the coalition’s survival.

After Yisrael Beiteinu MK Eli Avidar’s dispute with his party chairman, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Avidar doesn’t see himself as obligated to the party or the coalition in general. Nevertheless, just as he voted for the coalition, he wants it to survive. He has no desire to bring it down, with all that would mean, especially with regard to the state budget, which is to be passed five months from now. At the moment, Avidar isn’t splitting off from Yisrael Beiteinu, and he has his reasons.

At this point, Avidar doesn’t intend to fight over every law the coalition wants to pass and for which it will need his support. He figures the ideal solution is a ministerial portfolio that he would receive at the expense of another party’s quota of portfolios, and in exchange he’ll vote with the coalition on every issue. This would be a kind of personal coalition agreement made while he is officially part of Yisrael Beiteinu. Avidar wants a conclusive solution, not one that drags on and on.

Yisrael Beiteinu MK Eli Avidar, Knesset. Credit: Adina Welman / Knesset spokesperson

But the main obstacle here is Lieberman, who is expected to refuse any surrender or gesture of the coalition to Avidar. Although Lieberman is trying to convey that the situation is under control and that his relationship with Avidar is good, there is major tension between the two. Avidar was offered the position of minister in Lieberman’s own Finance Ministry, and when Avidar declined, claiming that a minister working under another minister can’t really have an impact or act independently, Lieberman saw this as a personal insult.

The solution for Avidar may be in the parliamentary arena, perhaps in the form of a package of legislation that the coalition will promote for him in exchange for his support on other laws. The height of the tension is likely to be reached as the budget vote draws closer: If by then the issue isn’t resolved, Avidar will have to decide whether to vote against the budget and see the government fall, or to be prepared to give up his demands and lose his main leverage.

United Arab List MK Saeed Alkharumi is a question mark both inside and outside his party. Prior to the swearing-in of the government, he changed his mind a few times and until the last minute the UAL wasn’t sure how he would vote. Even now the party can’t say exactly what his intentions are, and since the beginning of the week talks have been underway on the issue between party Chairman Mansour Abbas and his partners.

Said al-Harumi at his office in the Knesset, November 2020.Credit: David B. Green

The main objection of Alkharumi, who lives in an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, stems from one of the most sensitive parts of the coalition agreement – legalizing illegal construction in the Negev. The right-wing parties in the coalition have agreed meanwhile to stop house demolitions there for nine months.

Alkharumi himself has repeatedly said “everything will be all right,” but the coalition is treating him like someone who might abstain again on a crucial vote. It seems he won’t vote against the coalition, as he didn’t vote against the swearing in of the government, but he is an obstacle to the coalition’s stability.

Figures in the coalition say that talks with Alkharumi should present the stick, not the carrot: Instead of trying to reach a compromise with him on the issue of house demolitions in the Negev, he should be threatened with more demolitions if he doesn’t vote with the coalition. The UAL, however, is expected to oppose such a move.

Even before the new government was formed, Yamina’s Chikli said he would vote against it, but he didn’t burn his bridges and join the opposition.

Yamina party MK Amichai ChikliCredit: Yamina Spokesperson's Office

Chikli doesn’t want his party to declare that he has left it, which would prevent him from participating in any Knesset committees or presenting any bills.To prevent that, Chikli will usually vote with his party or abstain. In cases of ideological disputes, he reserves the right to vote no. Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli, the transportation minister, conducted herself similarly in the last Knesset, when she decided not to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s government with party colleagues Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli. But neither did she want to leave the faction.

The relationship between Chikli and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the party chairman, is strained. Chikli plans to steer clear of meetings of Yamina MKs, but he will maintain ties with party members and avoid acting as an opposition MK. If Yamina decides to oust him from the faction, he could join the opposition in the future, but the assumption is that this is not what Bennett and Yamina want.

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