Analysis |

Israel's Coalition Commits Suicide, Leaving Sa’ar Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Lapid failed miserably to bring the renegade Meretz lawmaker in check, while Abbas' curveball appointment has returned to hit him in the face. After a humiliating defeat, it is hard to see Israel's 'unity' government united again

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Bennett, Lapid and Gantz in Knesset.
Bennett, Lapid and Gantz in Knesset.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The Knesset, which in its day has seen many weird and cockeyed votes, broke its own record on Monday: The right voted against regularizing the legal status of the settlers in the territories, and the left voted in favor. The Arab-majority Joint List and Likud rejoiced, as they did after the vote on the Citizenship Law. “Stranger Things” isn’t just the title of Neflix series – it's our politics.

The failure to pass the law has no immediate significance for the fate of half-a-million settlers in the West Bank, but it is liable to have a deadly effect on the fate of the coalition. Had lawmakers Mazen Ghanayim (United Arab List) and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) been the only members of coalition parties to have voted against the legislation – as had been expected initially – Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), for example, could have stomached it. He doesn’t give “prizes to anyone who votes nay,” as he indicated in the Zoom conversation with his activists on Friday. But when the other three lawmakers from the United Arab List, headed by party chairman Mansour Abbas, don’t enter the voting chamber, the event takes on different dimensions.

Gideon Sa'ar at the Knesset on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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On Monday, we saw a coalition committing suicide. If it can’t manage to muster its 60 remaining legislators, and loses a critical vote with the humiliating result of 52 to 58, it’s hard to believe that it will ever recover. Abbas didn’t manage to rein in Ghanayim, who has his eye on becoming the mayor of Sakhnin. Foreign Minister (and Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) failed miserably with Rinawie Zoabi, just moments after celebrating her “return to the coalition.” The former flicked away the leader of his party, Abbas, who had integrated him into the slate even though he was not a member of the United Arab List; the latter spit for the umpteenth time in the face of the man who had gone to all lengths to placate her and keep her in the framework.

The initial intention of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Lapid and Sa’ar, which was formulated on Monday at a meeting in the prime minister’s bureau, was to swallow the expected loss on the assumption that it would end with the two aforementioned rebels, and to start working on the alternative plan: to pressure Ghanayim and Rinawie Zoabi, by means of Abbas and Lapid, to resign from the Knesset. The next in line on each of the lists are considered more amenable. And after that, to bring up the law again, if need be.

After the late night defeat on Monday, that plan went up in smoke, The sight of wavering Yamina lawmaker Nir Orbach, red in the face, rushing over to Ghanayim, testifies to his current mood. We will not be surprised if we wake up tomorrow morning and hear him say, like Menachem Begin said when he quit as prime minister in 1983, “I can’t do this anymore.” As for Sa’ar, we must wait and see. He still believes that Netanyahu and his bunch are a huge, clear and present danger to the state, but it is doubtful he will see any point in keeping the current coalition alive. The dilemma he is facing is cruel: either break up the government that would have never come to fruition without him – and for which he still serves as a stabilizing and moderating element – or continue to stumble through the current humiliating conditions, with everything collapsing around him; and above all, while knowing that during his stint as justice minister, the law to regularize settler status didn't pass.

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