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How a 'Routine' Knesset Vote Could Spell Trouble for Israeli Settlers – and the Government

The Israeli parliament is set for a tense vote on extending the application of Israeli law to settlers. Will chaos break out in the West Bank, and will it engulf the coalition? Haaretz explains

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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left), Mansour Abbas (center) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, against the background of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Credit: Reuters, Menahem Kahana/AFP, Ohad Zwigenberg. Artwork: Anastasia Shub
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Haaretz

Israeli lawmakers are scheduled to vote Monday on a bill extending regulations that apply Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank, but the government is still far from certain it has enough Knesset votes to ensure it passes.

Failing to pass the bill, which may have far-reaching consequences for Israeli settlers, could lead to a political deadlock, potentially even bringing down the government and forcing a new election cycle.

With the fate of the vote still up in the air, Haaretz explains what could happen over the course of the day, and what it could mean for the future of the coalition.

What is the Knesset going to vote on?

The Knesset is set to vote on "emergency" regulations that extend the application of Israeli law to its citizens in the West Bank.

This would be the first of three mandatory votes on the regulations that have been in effect since 1967, and since then ratified every five years.

The vote could take place any time after the Knesset convenes on Monday at 4 P.M., but could get dragged out into the night.

Why has this become a political mess?

Israel's fragile coalition is operating with a minority of 60 members of Knesset and tensions between its flanks, as well as an opposition bent on its defeat.

While the vote has historically been routine due to broad support from across the political spectrum, the head of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu has whipped up the opposition to vote against the bill in order to shame and potentially even collapse the coalition. With the exception of the majority-Arab Joint List, most opposition lawmakers do not oppose the bill, but are likely to vote against it to undermine the coalition.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who heads the New Hope party after splintering from Likud, slammed the opposition for its "cynical and irresponsible" politicization of the vote, and has insisted that the vote is about the very future of the coalition.

The internal pressure comes mainly from the United Arab List, the Islamist coalition partner with four lawmakers, which remains undecided. Senior coalition members have been trying to convince the party to vote for the extension, but not everybody is on board.

A former party lawmaker said on Monday morning that he doesn't expect the United Arab List's representatives to back the bill, which he told Ashams Radio "legitimizes the occupation and the settlement enterprise."

Abbas has been speaking with his party colleagues as well as with the coalition heads, and Mazen Ghanayim seems to be the biggest question mark. The lawmaker told associates over the weekend that he did not plan to vote for the extension. However, Ghanayim said he would wait until Abbas makes a decision on the matter.

The party's chair, Mansour Abbas, is expected to meet later on Monday with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on the matter. Senior coalition figures said the issue was likely to remain unsettled until shortly before the vote.

Abbas and Lapid in the Knesset, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Meanwhile, Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is also on the fence about the vote, despite the U-turn on her recent shock resignation.

Mansour Abbas, who wants to present a united front with Rinawie Zoabi, spoke with her over the weekend. After concluding that she opposed the extension, Abbas asked Lapid to speak with her.

Rinawie Zoabi told associates that she feels she is being played with, since the demands she submitted to Lapid as the condition for remaining in the coalition haven’t been met. Political sources say she has “one foot out of the coalition” and note that she abstained from the bill giving scholarships to combat veterans and from the Meretz Knesset caucus meeting.

She did not respond to a question from Haaretz about how she planned to vote. She is also expected to demand funding for projects for Arab communities in exchange for not foiling the extension vote. Coalition officials say that she’s likely to support the bill if the UAL does.

Besides Rinawi-Zoabi, the other members of Meretz are expected to support the bill.

Coalition leaders also hope that Idit Silman, the former coalition whip from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Yamina party who withdrew from the coalition, will abstain, rather than vote with the opposition against the bill.

Sources in Yamina say that if Silman votes against the bill, she will be declared a defecting member of Knesset, a punitive step she seeks to avoid. Government sources say that coalition figures, headed by government secretary Shalom Shlomo, are pressuring Silman’s husband, Shmulik. The intention is to impress upon the MK that if the law fails to pass, she will bear the blame for the implications upon the settlers. Silman’s position may also help determine the UAL’s position: The Arab party would not want to take the chance of supporting the law, if it will not pass anyway, and then have to face scorn for no gain.

What are the legal implications if the bill does not pass?

If the regulations are not renewed by the end of June, Israeli courts will no longer be empowered to try its citizens who have committed crimes in the West Bank, and Israeli authorities will be unable to prosecute and arrest its citizens in the West Bank.

Their expiration would mean that Israelis who commit crimes in the West Bank will be brought before Israeli military courts and serve time in the West Bank. In addition, Israel Police will no longer be able to investigate suspected crimes committed by Israelis in the West Bank, nor of those who committed crimes inside Israel and fled to the West Bank.

Israelis living in the West Bank will likely no longer have the right to government insurance, to membership in the Israel Bar Association or enjoy other rights and privileges they are entitled to by Israeli law. It would also have consequences on entry to Israel, military conscription, taxation, the population registry, adopting children and other matters.

The expiry of the regulations will ostensibly prevent settlers from voting in Israeli elections, as enfranchisement is dependent on a registered address in Israeli territory.

Will this lead to the fall of the government?

While the defeat of the bill does not in itself signal the end of the coalition, it will leave it with its back against the wall. Sources in the coalition say that they can bring the bill for new votes over the coming days, until it passes.

Alternatives to the emergency regulations are also being examined, including temporary military orders, but Gideon Sa’ar has said that this is not a satisfactory solution and that he opposes another postponement of the vote, which was already delayed one week.

On the other flank of the coalition, Meretz MK Michal Rozin said: “I ask if we have an alternative, and what that alternative is. If I knew that I’ll topple the government and a center-left government would replace it, I’d do it right now,” she said. She warned that if the regulations expire and the government falls, it would be pointless since “the right will pass the regulations within a week.”

On Monday, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman tempered expectations, stating that "nobody said that the law should pass today … even if it is 10 days later, nothing will happen."

The heterogeneous stripes of the government and its slender majority since its inception have tied its hands in advancing a lot of legislation, but they have also managed to pass some bills against the odds, such as a bill to subsidize tuition fees for discharged soldiers.

A zombie government could continue to survive, relying on borrowed support from opposition members, but the long-term prospects of such a coalition would be limited.

Opposition parties may seize the opportunity to bring down the Bennett-Lapid government, either replacing it with an alternative coalition or forcing a new election cycle. Any government that would replace it is all but certain to extend these regulations.

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