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Right, left or run over? As Israeli parliament opens summer session, sharks are circling a fragile coalition looking for a weak link

The government will either collapse or limp ahead – and much of this depends on the four seats held by the Islamist party

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, March 10, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Israel parliament began its summer session today under a shadow of uncertainty over the government’s chances of survival – be that another week or until the end of its full term in November 2025.

While that sounds like a total cop out of a prediction, the truth is that uncertainty – and even paralysis – are the most accurate words to describe the current political situation in the Israeli Knesset.

The governing coalition, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the helm, is a patchwork of various parties ranging from far right to far left and including the four of seats of the Islamist Ra’am party, which is affiliated with the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement. The coalition is also held together by a power-sharing deal which would see Bennett turn over the prime minister position to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in September 2023.

Contrary to most predictions, this unlikely coalition has lasted – just shy of a year. But its durability is about to be tested again in the coming days.

The path forward involves three options:

1. The opposition forwards a no-confidence vote. But given there are not expected to be enough votes to pass, this option is largely symbolic and only serves to damage the credibility of the current government
. (The coalition survived two no-confidence motions tonight.)

2. The opposition forwards a bill to disperse the Knesset. This may look attractive to opposition members sensing the government is weak, but it is tricky. If the bill – which needs an absolute majority of 61 out of 120 votes – does not pass any of the four readings, the opposition is blocked from bringing it up for another six months.

3. Nothing happens. No one else defects from the coalition and it limps along with a 60-60 vote. Little legislation is passed, but Bennett remains prime minister and eventually turns over the government to Lapid in 2023.


OPPOSITION LOOKING FOR WEAK LINKS

The opposition is determined to topple the government.  

“The government has lost its Knesset majority – it has no public legitimacy and it is illegitimate,” opposition parties said in a joint statement after a meeting on Sunday.

Opposition leader and former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the “government of weakness and deception” has lost the public's confidence and “must go home today.”

“Instead of being preoccupied with warding off the dangers to our existence and deterring our enemies, Bennett and Lapid are preoccupied only with their personal survival, or rather with the question of which of them will be the transitional prime minister,” Netanyahu said.

Last month, the government suffered a blow when one of its members, Idit Silman, announced she would no longer vote with the coalition. That shaved off the single-vote majority that the coalition held, leaving the Knesset split 60-60, rendering it nearly impossible to pass any legislation.

At the time of Silman’s decision, more defections were expected as the opposition sought to pick off other lawmakers to vote with them and further weaken the government.

So far, they have failed to do so.

Nevertheless, the opposition has smelled blood and is circling now to find another crack that can undo the government.

Shoring up his camp, Bennett said the coalition was committed to stability and “to work together in order to maintain the government and the coalition for the good of Israel’s citizens,” according to a statement after a coalition meeting on Sunday.

THE ABBAS FACTOR

Once again, Mansour Abbas – head of Ra’am – holds many of the cards in determining which direction this government will go. Abbas was the kingmaker in forming this coalition

And despite having just four seats in the government, Abbas has positioned himself as one of the most powerful Arab lawmakers in the country.

His four seats enabled Bennett and Lapid to form a coalition pushing them over the 60-vote threshold and giving them the slight majority.

Now, Abbas has the ability to tank this coalition by taking his four seats to the opposition.

On the other hand, by having a seat at the table, he has already been able to secure legislation to develop Arab communities.

He and his peers are in a precarious position trying to cater to their Muslim constituency, which many times finds itself at odds with Israeli policies, while also trying to maintain a working relationship with the vastly different parties and special interests.

Amid heigthened tensions at al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which pitted Muslim rioters against Israeli police, Ra’am responded by freezing its membership in the coalition.

But the Knesset was on spring break.

Since then, Abbas said he does not intend to cause the government’s collapse.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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