Bennett Mulls Backing anti-Netanyahu Bloc in Key Vote on Knesset Panel

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, last month.
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is leaning toward supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents in Monday’s vote on the composition of the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee.

The committee is responsible for setting the Knesset agenda during the transitional period between an election and the formation of a new government. This means that the committee controls which bills will come before the Knesset plenum during this time. The committee will likely be faced with proposed bills that could either aid the prime minister or undermine his attempts to form a government.

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There are two alternate proposals for the panel’s composition, each based on a different formula for translating Knesset seats into committee seats.

Under Likud’s proposal, parties would get one seat on the committee for every six Knesset seats. Consequently, the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs would each get 10 seats, while the two parties belonging to neither bloc, Yamina and the United Arab List, would get one seat apiece. This means the latter two would likely cancel each other out on major votes.

The anti-Netanyahu bloc’s proposal would give parties two seats on the panel for every six Knesset seats. Consequently, that bloc would get 16 seats and Netanyahu’s bloc only 14, while Yamina would get two seats and UAL one. This would give Yamina considerable power to decide the outcome of close votes.

Yamina sources said on Sunday that they will likely support the second proposal, since it gives the party more power. They also didn’t rule out the possibility that in exchange for its support, Yamina will demand the chairmanship of one of the temporary Knesset committees that the arrangement committee will set up.

But despite Yamina’s insistence that its decision will be determined solely by which proposal gives it most power, both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs see the party’s vote on this issue as a strong signal of which bloc it will ultimately support. If Yamina votes with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, this might indicate that it sees Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government as low and has therefore decided to join his opponents.

Benjamin Netanyahu on Israel's Memorial Day Credit: Moti Milrod

“We expect Yamina to support this proposal, which preserves the right’s power and gives Yamina veto power over every decision,” arrangements committee chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) said of his party’s proposal on Sunday. “If Yamina doesn’t support this proposal, that means they are part of the left-wing bloc, violating its promises to its voters.”

Netanyahu issued a similar statement urging Yamina to support Likud’s proposal, “which will preserve the right’s power and give it veto power. There’s no reason for it to join forces with the left, not on this issue and not on any other issue.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, added, “Anyone who really wants to form a right-wing government rather than engaging in transparent political maneuvering wouldn’t try to thwart it by transferring control of the Knesset to the left-wing bloc.”

The arrangements committee appoints temporary members to the only two Knesset committees that operate even during the twilight period between an election and the formation of a new government – the Finance Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Thus the dispute over the arrangements committee’s composition has effectively paralyzed the Knesset’s work and kept it from supervising the caretaker government’s conduct of security and economic affairs at a time when the conflict with Iran is worsening.

A vote on the issue was slated for last week, but was postponed to give Yamina more time to make a decision.

Labor Party whip Ram Shefa urged the Knesset’s legal advisor on Sunday to take steps to get the arrangements committee finalized on Monday.

“Every day that passes in which the Knesset continues to be paralyzed is a blow to its sovereignty and its ability to supervise the government’s actions,” he said. “Israelis need a functioning Knesset. Therefore, we must set up the arrangements committee promptly, and with it the finance and foreign affairs and defense committees. I urge Miki Zohar and Likud to honor the outcome of the election and stop their games.”

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