Lapid Vows to Hold Israel's Coalition Together in First Comments Since Whip's Defection

Foreign minister, set to take over as prime minister next year, writes in Facebook post that he has spoken with leaders of coalition parties

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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset in Jerusalem, in February.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset in Jerusalem, in February.Credit: Emil Salman

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid vowed that the coalition would "do everything" to hold itself together on Thursday in his first public comments on the political crisis caused by lawmaker Idit Siman quitting the coalition, ending its majority. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman also voiced his commitment to the coalition's survival, saying that "the last thing we need is a fifth election cycle within three years."

Lapid is set to take over from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as premier next year, according to the coalition agreement between the two – if this government survives.

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In a Facebook post, promised that extremism would not be victorious, and that far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich "will not take our country from us with force. We will do everything so the government holds on for a long time yet."

Ackowledging what he called a "coalition crisis" after the departure of Silman, the coalition whip, Lapid wrote that it "isn't the first and likely isn't the last." He wrote that he had spoken "with all the leaders of the parties more than once," and that "all are prepared for us to get through this without further shocks."

The foreign minister also said he was committed "not to drag Israel into another election, [and more] toxicity, and division." He asserted that patriots "do not want to get rid of those who think differently from them, but to find ways to live with them. Our government represents this indispensable idea: that our right to exist is only together."

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz meanwhile wrote on Twitter that he had spoken to many ministers and lawmakers representing a wife range of Israeli society, and all wanted the coalition to remain in place. "There are disagreements between us," he wrote. "But our desire for honest, secular and responsible rule prevails over what divides us and requires us to be level-headed and pragmatic. This government saved Israeli democracy."

Lapid's and Lieberman's comments followed others by coalition party chiefs voicing support for the coalition. On Wednesday, Horowitz the party was "a responsible partner and we are committed and will work to continue the term of the government." Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli said that that those who care about what's good for Israel "must make an effort so that this government, which is working like governments haven't worked here for a long time, is preserved and stays."

Opposition moves

In addition to searching for another defector who would give the opposition the 61st vote it needs to dissolve the Knesset, Likud members have spent the last day shoring up their connection with Silman.

Party sources said that in particular, lawmakers Yariv Levin of Likud and Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism, the architects of Silman’s defection, have invested a great deal of time toward this goal over the past day. The chances of her returning to the coalition are small, the sources added. But “unlike Naftali Bennett, we don’t take chances,” one said.

Netanyahu, Levin and other lawmakers are also investing great effort in trying to find another defector. Many Likud members have claimed publicly that success in this effort is just around the corner, but in private, party sources admit that this isn’t the case. Talks are taking place with other members of Yamina, as well as MKs from other coalition parties, but “there’s a big difference between talking and an actual move,” one said.

The search for another defector could take just days, but it could also take months, the sources said. Prior to Silman’s defection this week, similar talks had taken place since the government was formed last year without producing any results. But Likud lawmakers think her decision to switch sides could alter the picture.

Senior Likud officials said the chances of forming a Likud-led government in the current Knesset are slim. Therefore, the more likely path is legislation to call early elections.

If Netanyahu wants to dissolve the Knesset before it returns from its spring recess on May 8, he will have to collect signatures from 61 MKs. Once these signatures are submitted to the Knesset speaker, a vote on dissolving the Knesset must take place within a week. But so far, the opposition has only 60 votes in any case.

Once the recess ends, however, no signatures are necessary. Any opposition party can submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset, and it must be brought up for its first of four required votes the following Wednesday.

To pass the first three votes, only a simple majority of MKs present and voting is needed. But on the fourth vote, at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs must vote in favor.

If such a bill fails to pass, the opposition is barred from submitting similar legislation for the next half year.

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