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Bennett said resisting anti-Netanyahu bill, warning coalition will collapse

PM reportedly tells coalition partners that bringing the bill to bar MK charged with serious crime from being PM will push renegade Yamina MK Nir Orbach into arms of Netanyahu camp

Opposition Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) walks next to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during the vote on the state budget, in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) walks next to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during the vote on the state budget, in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is resisting pressure from his coalition partners to put forward a bill that would bar a lawmaker charged with a serious crime from becoming prime minister, which if approved would prevent former premier Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

Bennett reportedly told coalition heads that bringing the bill to the Knesset would bring about the downfall of the coalition because it would push Yamina MK Nir Orbach over to the Netanyahu camp.

Orbach announced on June 13 his decision to quit the coalition, dropping the ailing political alliance into the Knesset minority — two seats behind the opposition. Orbach said he would not vote to bring down the government in the coming week, however, and would seek to build an alternative government with a “patriotic spirit” in the existing Knesset.

But bringing the bill could push Orbach to renege on his promise and support a planned opposition bill to disperse the Knesset, the report said.

In addition to Orbach, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has said she is also opposed to the bill, which was authored by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

The report said some coalition members believe it is worth the risk to try and pass the law, because if Netanyahu does not garner a 61-seat majority in the next elections he will be unable to change the law and will be effectively barred from power.

However, the law could also rebound against the current coalition by boosting support for Netanyahu and his narrative that he is being persecuted by the media and the justice system, Channel 12 said.

Former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws would block any Knesset member indicted for a crime that includes a minimum sentence of three years and moral turpitude from being tasked by the president with forming a government.

Such a MK could also not be included in a vote of confidence in a new government or become alternative prime minister, a position created for the previous power-sharing government between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz and carried over to the current one between Bennett and Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing.

A public servant convicted of fraud and breach of trust faces a minimum prison sentence of three years, while one convicted of bribery faces 10 years in prison or a fine.

Pressure to bring the bill comes as the Likud party is mulling bringing its own bill to disperse the Knesset and force fresh elections to the plenum floor for a preliminary vote this week, according to a Saturday television report.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu’s party is preparing to bring such a bill for a vote on Wednesday, but the report said a decision would likely not be made until the last moment.

If successful in a preliminary vote, for which only a simple Knesset majority is required, the bill would need to pass three further Knesset votes with the support of at least 61 of the 120 MKs.

A Knesset dispersal bill is one of three ways to topple the government. The others are a successful no-confidence vote of at least 61 MKs and a government’s failure to pass a timely budget.

The anti-Netanyahu bill could then push Orbach to vote to disperse the Knesset, something he had previously pledged to Bennett that he would not currently do.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, the Makor Rishon newspaper, which is identified with the national religious community, said that Bennett had asked Orbach to resign from the Knesset in exchange for a senior position outside of parliament.

Such a move would allow a more supportive person to take Orbach’s place in the Knesset.

The report said Orbach was angered by the suggestion but did not immediately rule it out.

The opposition party had previously considered trying for a dispersal bill after Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi quit the coalition last month, but her swift return to the political alliance made the move unlikely to be successful.

Likud had also planned to bring the bill for a vote in May, but pulled it after the Islamist Ra’am party returned to the coalition’s ranks, killing the opposition’s chances of achieving a simple majority to pass the bill in its preliminary reading.

Likud is reluctant to bring the bill to a vote if it is not assured of a majority, as its failure would mean any similar measure would be blocked for a period of six months.

According to a Thursday report by the Kan public broadcaster, Bennett discussed the possibility of setting up an alternative government with Netanyahu’s Likud party during a meeting with one of his political advisers in Tel Aviv. Bennett’s Yamina party denied the report.

An alternative government could be set up within the current Knesset, without new elections, if another candidate can muster the support of at least 61 MKs.

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