As Knesset Reconvenes, Bennett's Coalition Teeters and Netanyahu Goes on the Attack

'Those who sit in government with Hamas supporters cannot fight Hamas,' opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tells lawmakers, as parliament returns from recess with a no-confidence vote

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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on Monday.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Knesset reconvened on Monday after a two-month recess, with political leaders trading barbs and a potential early election looms over the parliament's summer session.

The homecoming kicked off with a no-confidence vote put forward by the Likud-led opposition, primarily taking Prime Minister Nafatli Bennett's government to task over a spate of deadly attacks in recent weeks.

The motion, which needed the support of at least 61 out of 120 Knesset members, got 52. Sixty-one lawmakers voted against it, including some of the Joint List's members, who are in the opposition. A separate no-confidence vote also failed.

Without a Knesset majority after the defection of Yamina's Idit Silman, the country'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.

Speaking to the Knesset, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu charged that the "current government is paralyzed… It does not decide, it does not initiate, it does not fight terrorism."

Lawmaker Idit Silman, former coalition whip who quit the coalition, at the Knesset, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The government's policies "are not set at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, nor is it set at the palace, or fortress, in Ra'anana (where Bennett lives). It is set by the Shura Council," Netanyahu said, referring to the United Arab List's religious advisory body.

The opposition has made Bennett's political partnership with the United Arab List, an Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas, a rallying cry. Before being ousted, Netanyahu also negotiated with Abbas, but failed to secure a majority backing for his proposed government.

"Those who sit in government with Hamas supporters cannot fight Hamas," Netanyahu told the Knesset. "Today, without seats, without a majority in the Knesset, without public support, Bennett can't fight terrorism."

Bennett urged political stability and told his Yamina party that "instability is unhealthy for the state... It's extremely important to keep the coalition together," urging his colleagues to "act responsibly."

"The alternative would be going back a year, and that's terrible," Bennett said, alluding to the prolonged political crisis that saw Israelis return to the polls four times over two years before a government was finally formed.

According to Bennett, "years of political paralysis" have left Israel behind on some major issues, including defense.

Ultra-Orthodox support?

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told his party's faction meeting that he is not worried about the status of the coalition, saying that there have been other non-majority governments in Israel that "have lasted a long time."

Speaking at the Yesh Atid faction meeting, Lapid said "at the end of all the political spins, the opposition rose to 54 lawmakers, and we have 60. I'm not being flippant. The new situation creates difficulties, there will legislative processes that will get delayed, but there have already been such governments in Israel that have lasted a long time."

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on Monday.Credit: Emil Salman

Speaking to his Kahol Lavan party, Defense Minister Benny Gantz charged that holding elections now would be "irresponsible economically, socially and security-wise."

"Elections would be a stick in the wheels of the defense establishment's power building," he said, adding that he hopes the coalition "brings in the support of Knesset members from the ultra-Orthodox factions in the government."

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 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.

In order to stay in office in the face of a no-confidence vote, Bennett will also need the support of Abbas’ United Arab List. In April, as the Knesset was still in recess, the party 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.

It walked back on the move before the Knesset reconvened, but some of its lawmakers have said their support is not guaranteed and depends primarily on the situation surrounding Jerusalem's holy sites.

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