Israel's beleaguered government may suffer another blow this week, with lawmaker Nir Orbach indicating that he will decide whether to remain with the ruling coalition by Wednesday.
Following media reports that Orbach was holding “significant talks” with a senior Likud lawmaker about joining the opposition, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with him on Thursday night.
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Sources knowledgeable about what was discussed at the meeting told Haaretz that Orbach said that the coalition stood a chance of surviving if one of two things happened – either one of two coalition lawmakers who have recently voted against the government – Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) and Mazen Ghanayim (United Arab List) – leave the Knesset, or the government succeeds in passing the legislation renewing emergency regulations applying Israeli law to West Bank settlers.
Sources also said Orbach did not change his views in any significant way – he continues to believe that under current conditions the government cannot continue to function and that if no solution is forthcoming it won’t survive.
According to a joint statement from Bennett and Orbach, the meeting, held at the Kirya governmental complex in Tel Aviv, went well. They are scheduled to meet again on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the opposition can, if it chooses, submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset. However, even if Orbach opts to leave the coalition, it’s not assured that he would vote to dissolve the Knesset as early as next week.
During the meeting, Bennett asked Orbach for additional time and said that over the course of the weekend he would get a better understanding how the situation is developing and whether there’s a chance of coaxing either Rinawie Zoabi or Ghanayim to leave the Knesset after both voted in this week against extending the regulations that apply Israeli law to Israelis living in the West Bank.
Orbach promised then that he would not act without notifying the prime minister in advance and would coordinate his moves with him. This week, he even informed Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Yamnina’s No. 2, that he had been in talks with Likud.
The meeting follows one held with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, on Wednesday night. Since MK Idit Silman’s defection, the two, together with Deputy Minister Abir Kara, have agreed to cooperate on the assumption that they can accomplish more together than separately. Yamina sources said Thursday that Likud has been seeking to create divisions between the three.
Sources in Yamina said Orbach had briefed senior party officials about his talks with Likud MK Yariv Levin. Their assessment was that he hadn’t yet decided to leave the governing coalition. And even if he does, they added, he won’t spring it on the party without warning.
Right now, he’s “examining his options,” one said.
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This is not the first time that Orbach has been courted by the opposition; in April, Orbach met with Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and demanded more "right-wing steps" from the coalition to stop his departure. These included subsidies for ultra-Orthodox day cares and advancing settlement construction.
However, even if both renegade lawmakers left, the coalition would still lack a Knesset majority, a legacy of Yamina MK Idit Silman’s defection in early April. During the vote on extending the emergency regulations, Silman, who had previously been coalition whip, absented herself. On another bill allowing Matan Kahana to return to his previous post as minister for religious services, Silman voted against.