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All eyes on Orbach as Yamina MK set to meet Bennett ahead of possible defection

Latest rebel threat reportedly tells PM he is fed up with coalition, as rumors swirl that he is in talks to join Netanyahu’s Likud

Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman talk in the Knesset on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman talk in the Knesset on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amid mounting rumors that he is gearing up to defect from the coalition, Yamina MK Nir Orbach was set to meet his party chief, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, on Thursday evening in Tel Aviv.

According to multiple TV reports, Orbach is expected to tell Bennett that he intends to bring down the government within a few days if the coalition’s renegade MKs in Meretz and Ra’am are not brought in line.

The Walla news site reported on Thursday that Orbach told Bennett in the early hours of Thursday morning that “it’s over,” and it is only a matter of time before the government falls. According to the Kan public broadcaster, Orbach also told the prime minister that the coalition has no shot at successfully passing a state budget next year, which would ultimately doom the government.

Orbach was also said to tell the prime minister that the Islamist Ra’am party — which made history by joining the coalition last year — was “only looking for an ATM” in their participation with the government.

Reports have been swirling all week that Orbach is on the verge of defecting from the government, which would make him the latest in a series of Yamina MKs who have felt they cannot support the current diverse coalition. Orbach has denied persistent reports that he is holding negotiations with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to join Likud.

Channel 12 reported Thursday evening, however, that Orbach told Bennett he is exploring the option of an alternate government, and the Ynet news site claimed that Netanyahu promised Orbach a position in Likud if he defects.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If Orbach exits the coalition, the government would be left with just 59 seats in the 120-member Knesset, placing it in the minority, although not all opposition lawmakers are aligned.

Attention has shifted to Orbach in the wake of yet another coalition failure in the Knesset on Wednesday, when it was unable to thwart opposition-backed bills hiking the minimum wage. The bills were able to pass preliminary readings when some coalition lawmakers bucked the government’s position and voted in favor of the legislation.

The defeats have boosted efforts by the opposition’s right-religious bloc to maneuver Netanyahu back into power, either via a complicated governmental transition or by bringing down the coalition and forcing a new election.

Bennett’s diverse government of eight parties has been on the ropes since MK Idit Silman, a member of his own Yamina party, quit the coalition in April, erasing its parliamentary majority. Rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli refused to back the government since its inception and was formally ousted from the party in April.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session, May 11, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Orbach has been pegged as a flight risk ever since Silman bolted and has issued ultimatums to stay in the coalition that were tied to his support of West Bank settlements. Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious opposition bloc has sought defectors from coalition parties on the right who are similar ideologically, viewing Yamina members as those most likely to jump ship.

Though Orbach is acting on his own, Walla reported that he is keen to see Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Yamina No. 2 and a longtime Bennett ally, join him in making a jump to the opposition, although such a move is still seen as a longshot.

In the meantime, Orbach has reportedly said that he believes Yamina — which currently holds just six seats after ousting Chikli, and would drop to five if it evicts Silman — is losing its base of support.

The minimum wage vote was the third consecutive blow to the government, after it failed to pass a key bill renewing the application of some Israeli law on West Bank settlers, and then hours later was unable to reappoint Matan Kahana as religious services minister.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim and Meretz’s Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi both voted against the West Bank legislation, while other coalition lawmakers abstained. Their decision to break ranks sparked further coalition turmoil, with government leaders, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, calling on the rebels to resign.

Orbach’s frustration with Ra’am was on full display in the Knesset on Monday, when he shouted at Ghanaim in the Knesset plenum after the Ra’am MK voted against the West Bank legislation: “You don’t know how to be partners. The experiment with you has failed,” he yelled, referring to Ra’am’s pioneering vision of Arab-Jewish political partnership.

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