Israel's Coalition Looks to Weed Out Dissenters After Damning Defeat

Israel's government looks to pressure the two dissenting lawmakers into resigning from the Knesset, but its hands are tied when it comes to the defector from Bennett's own party

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Arab lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi votes no on a law on the legal status of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, Monday.
Arab lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi votes no on a law on the legal status of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, Monday.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo /AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The day after major failures in the Knesset, Israel’s coalition is trying to figure out if it has the tools to avoid further voting fiascos.

One effort is focused on buying time to extend its term long enough to finish the summer session, and stretch it until the beginning of the coming winter session.

The other effort by both the coalition’s left and right flanks is to ensure that the other side is responsible for the government’s fall.

If the United Arab List or Meretz causes the Knesset’s dissolution, Naftali Bennett will continue to hold the reins as caretaker-prime minister. If Idit Silman is responsible for its demise, Yair Lapid will occupy the Prime Minister’s Office until a successor government arises.

Silman has been the subject of debate – should she or should she not be declared a defector for skipping the vote on West Bank emergency regulations that she should have supported, and for voting against Matan Kahana's appointment as Religious Affairs Minister?

The coalition doesn't have many options at its disposal. Declaring her a defector is likely to be met with resistance from Yamina — both among its lawmakers and the support base.

Ousting Silman from her role as Health Committee chair is a more symbolic and moderate step, but it’s unlikely to lead to anything. Besides exacting a price for her votes, seizing the committee from her would halt future cooperation between her and the coalition and undercut Bennett’s ability to serve as prime minister. Such a step probably won’t affect Silman’s support for the opposition in the plenum, nor will it extend the coalition's lifespan.

The government also has little room to maneuver due to the pocket of resistance it faces from its left flank. Senior coalition members over the past day have concluded they can pressure Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz and Mazen Ghanayim of the United Arab List to quit the Knesset – believing that their replacements will be more amenable to toeing the coalition line on various votes. However, such a move relies substantially on the good will of the two lawmakers. Because it’s impossible to fire a legislator, the two must decide they prefer resigning. Ghanayim wants to run for mayor of Sakhnin, but threats by senior coalition members on Monday to work against his candidacy didn’t change his decision to oppose the bill.

Questions remain about Zoabi, too. Coalition members believe that her departure will mark the end of her political career, but some of them asserted Monday that they had reached understandings with her regarding her support of the government. They say that if she could have decided the outcome of the vote, she would have supported it, but since the gap between supporters and opponents was large anyway, she was given the option of voting against it.

If indeed such an agreement was reached, it shows the ability to get Rinawie Zoabi on board for critical votes along the way. However, it’s hard to assess whether she would have passed the litmus test. Both the left and right sides of the coalition have come to understand that the faltering government is near the end of the line. Still, it’s hard to predict whether its dissolution will come in a matter of days or months.

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