As the Knesset returns to session on Monday, Israel’s governing coalition appears to be on increasingly shaky ground, with the week ahead shaping up to be a critical period for determining its future viability.
Following last month’s resignation of coalition whip Idit Silman, the government has been left with only 60 Knesset seats, the same size as the opposition, destabilizing it and prompting rumbles of discontent among other members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party.
Bennett moved quickly to sooth Yamina lawmakers Nir Orbach and Abir Kara – a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office who threatened to resign from the tottering governing coalition – pushing through policy moves related to the economy and the settlements to keep them within the fold.
He will need their support as the Likud-led opposition has called for a no-confidence vote on Monday and may even push for a motion to move up the Knesset election.
In order to stay in office, Bennett will also need the support of Mansour Abbas’ Islamist United Arab List Party. In April, the UAL declared that it was “freezing” its membership in the coalition during the Knesset recess in the wake of clashes on Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound.
The UAL's Shura Council – an advisory body of religious leaders – met to agree on the measure, which sources say was coordinated with Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
The council's decision stated that the UAL was no longer a member of the coalition and had suspended all parliamentary activity. Government sources said last month that they view the move as purely symbolic, stating that it was primarily meant to let the party's supporters "let off steam," while maintaining the coalition integrity.
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If Abbas’ boycott of the coalition continues, a bill to dissolve the coalition would pass, although officials last week said that both Bennett and Lapid felt Abbas was ready to reverse his largely symbolic decision.
Party sources said the UAL may initially only support some government-backed bills and help to block opposition-sponsored legislation, rather than join the coalition on all votes but that it didn’t intend to bring down the government.
Most of the demands raised by Abbas in his meetings with coalition heads, and on which he conditioned the return of his party to the coalition, were already part of the coalition agreements, though some have been slow to advance. Now the party is demanding progress.
However, Abbas still needs to contend with discontent within his own party in the wake of tensions on the Temple Mount which have seen repeated clashes between Palestinian worshippers and police during the holy month of Ramadan.
“We are not part of the coalition. I cannot say about going forward, touchpoints will determine it,” UAL lawmaker Walid Taha, a rival of Abbas, told the Times of Israel last week.
In a clear rebuff of Abbas’ declaration that any agreement with his party regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque would be subject to understandings to be reached between Israel and Jordan, Bennett declared at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that no "extraneous considerations” would be taken into account while weighing policy decisions regarding the Temple Mount.
"I would like to clarify here that there is no political consideration regarding the war on terrorism nor will there be. And of course, all decisions regarding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem will be made by the Government of Israel, which is sovereign in the city, without any extraneous considerations whatsoever.
"We certainly reject any foreign involvement in the decisions of the Government of Israel,” Bennett said, calling Jerusalem "the capital of only one country – the State of Israel.
"Our government needs to continue to work and function in order to deal with the security situation” and the aftermath of the Omicron wave of the pandemic, Bennett continued, asserting that the efficient running of the country "will become stuck and go awry in a situation of elections and chaos.
"Whoever has a drop of national civic responsibility needs to act to maintain and preserve this good government. I expect and know that all of the parties and party leaders will join in the effort to maintain the government and have already done so,” he said.
Beyond Taha, UAL lawmaker Mazen Ghanayim remains a wildcard and has called for members of his party to leave the coalition, as opposed to just freezing their membership of it. But party sources said Ghanayim does not plan to carry out his threat immediately after the Knesset returns from its recess.
Given the many potential pitfalls in the way of continuing coalition stability, some associates of the prime minister have said that there’s an 80 percent chance that the government will last another month or so. From their point of view, the question isn’t just whether and when, but how the collapse will come about.
Sam Sokol contributed to this article.