AnalysisNo other potential alliance would better serve their interests

Amid squabbles, lawmakers in government no longer take its survival for granted

As parties turn on each other and trust in the prime minister erodes, coalition politicians are increasingly voicing concern their fractious alliance may not last

Sam Sokol

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri pictured at a faction meeting in the Knesset on February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri pictured at a faction meeting in the Knesset on February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday afternoon, amid rising tensions between members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, Ofir Katz (Likud), the coalition whip, announced the withdrawal of all legislation from the Knesset plenum — highlighting the government’s increasing difficulty in enacting its legislative agenda.

“I am not willing to rely on any party other than the coalition parties, and am not willing to manage [the coalition] based on the whims of its members. I hope that the situation in which the coalition is helping the opposition to hurt us will stop,” Katz wrote to his fellow Likud lawmakers.

His announcement came on the heels of the Knesset’s failure to pass an amendment to the Religious Services Law desired by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, due to opposition from the far-right Otzma Yehudit. And it underlined why some coalition lawmakers have begun publicly airing concerns that the government’s days may be numbered.

The Religious Services Law was a test of Netanyahu’s ability to deliver for the ultra-Orthodox following the failure of the Shas-backed Rabbis Bill last month — after which Haredi lawmakers indicated that they no longer feel that they can rely on Netanyahu to look out for their interests.

“There is no coalition, there is no discipline,” one unnamed Shas official told Kan news at the time.

Following Monday evening’s quarrel, Shas accused Otzma Yehudit leader and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of “doing everything to undermine the government from within [and] destroying its foundations.”

Leader of the Otzma Yehudit party and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Continuing in this vein, Shas Welfare Minister Ya’akov Margi tweeted that Ben Gvir’s “irresponsible conduct” will be remembered as having “caused the overthrow of the right-wing government during a war” — an assessment that echoed statements made by several other coalition figures in recent days and weeks.

Failing coalition discipline

Just as Ben Gvir tanked the Religious Services Bill, the Rabbis Bill had failed to make it out of committee due to dissent from within the coalition — in that case, by members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party.

It was this breach of coalition discipline that led one United Torah Judaism lawmaker to tell the Times of Israel that his ultra-Orthodox party, a longtime ally of the prime minister, had “lost its trust and its will to be a part of this coalition.”

“Right now I can’t tell you what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but we are definitely close to that,” this lawmaker said at the time.

Tension between Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox partners was further deepened by a High Court ruling in late June that there is no legal basis for excluding Haredi men from the military draft.

Haredi lawmakers have since pinned their hopes on the passage of a new enlistment bill currently being debated in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee — but chairman Yuli Edelstein’s recent promise to advance the ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill only “with broad agreement” has reportedly caused Shas and UTJ to consider resigning their cabinet posts, while remaining in the coalition.

Likud MKs Tally Gotliv, left, and Moshe Saada attend a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 18, 2024; they both expressed opposition to the so-called ‘Rabbis Bill.’ (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has also bucked Netanyahu on enlistment and drawn fierce criticism from both the prime minister and other members of the cabinet. While Gallant has denied he has any plan to leave the government, the backlash against him highlights just how fractious and disunited this government has become.

Should the enlistment bill fail, many believe the ultra-Orthodox parties may pull out of the coalition entirely.

Since the resignation of Benny Gantz’s National Unity party from the government last month, Netanyahu’s ruling coalition has held only 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, a slim margin that has left his hold on power dependent on keeping all of its constituent parties happy.

It would seem highly counterproductive for either the two far-right parties or the two ultra-Orthodox parties to destroy a coalition that serves their interests more effectively than any other potential alliance would, and to pitch Israel into elections that could reduce their Knesset representation and risk at least some of them winding up in the opposition.

Yet the feeling that the coalition may be on its last legs was reinforced by Settlement and National Projects Minister Orit Strock over the weekend. Speaking with residents of a newly recognized West Bank settlement on Saturday evening, Strock questioned how long the government could last.

Waxing lyrical about “what we’ve accomplished just in the past several months,” Strock said that “the hand is still outstretched” for land appropriation, as long as the government, “with God’s help,” still stands.

But “it’s unclear that it will stay standing, completely unclear,” she added.

Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Threats and demands

Some of that lack of clarity may stem from the actions of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of Strock’s far-right Religious Zionism party, who has repeatedly threatened to quit the government if Netanyahu signs a hostage-ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Similar threats have also emanated from Ben Gvir, who went so far as to temporarily stop voting with the coalition last month in order to force Netanyahu to reveal details of Israel’s proposal for the deal.

The friction between Ben Gvir and Netanyahu has been growing for some time, with the prime minister’s Likud party accusing the minister of leaking “state secrets” last month following apparent leaks to the press.

That friction seemed to boil over on Monday evening, when Ben Gvir, who blocked the Religious Services Law because Netanyahu would not add him to the now-defunct war cabinet, accused the prime minister of running a “one-man government.”

Minister of Finance and head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich holds up a picture of a victorious Gaza Hamas leader Yahya Siwar, at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 8, 2024.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Relations have also become strained between Ben Gvir and Smotrich, with Ben Gvir recently calling on his former electoral ally to refrain from personal attacks after Smotrich accused him of failing to curb violence in the Arab Israeli community.

Non-stop ultimatums

Ben Gvir’s threats are not being taken seriously by everyone in the coalition, however.

Speaking with Channel 12 on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter called such ultimatums “a gun without ammunition,” noting that Ben Gvir has been issuing such threats for a year and a half.

Dichter added that if Ben Gvir quits the coalition, he’ll participate in future governments “only at the movies.”

But while some are dismissive, others appear to be genuinely concerned for their political futures and interests.

The veteran Moshe Gafni, a senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker, hinted on Monday that the dissolution of the Knesset and an upcoming election were a possibility. During a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, which he chairs, Gafni told an opposition Yesh Atid MK, “That is where we are headed.” He later backtracked, claiming his remark had, uncharacteristically, been a joke.

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