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Giving alternative gov’t a chance, Orbach delays Knesset dispersal process to Monday

Yamina rebel holds off on convening his House Committee, the next stop of the bill to call new elections; entire process expected to be completed next week, but unclear when

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Yamina MK Nir Orbach leads a House Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 21, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Yamina MK Nir Orbach leads a House Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 21, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Although the Knesset approved the first of four votes on Wednesday to voluntarily disband, rebel Yamina MK Nir Orbach has now halted the dispersal process until Monday to give the Likud-led opposition time to form an alternative coalition and avoid snap elections.

The Knesset requires a law to voluntarily disband, and while Wednesday was the bill’s first step, it needs to pass two committee reviews and three additional readings to be finalized. Its next stop is the Knesset’s House Committee, which Orbach chairs. By refusing to convene the committee until Monday, Orbach is delaying the bill being sent to its first committee review process, a necessary hurdle before its next vote.

Once the House Committee convenes on Monday, the coalition is expected to send the dispersal bill to the more favorable Constitutional, Law and Justice Committee, headed by coalition MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), for an expedited review process. The earliest the Knesset dispersal can be finalized is on Monday, but it may extend late into the week.

This past Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that they would disband the Knesset and send Israel back to its fifth election in three and a half years. Bennett and Lapid said they had “exhausted” avenues to stabilize their rocky minority coalition.

Orbach was the last MK to depart the coalition, saying in his June 13 resignation notice that he would work towards forming an alternative right-wing coalition within the current Knesset. Although elements of the opposition and of Bennett’s Yamina party are actively working to create a new, immediate right-wing coalition, it is seen as unlikely that they’ll successfully muster the threshold number of 61 MKs necessary to swap out the government without new elections.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister and decade-long Bennett political partner Ayelet Shaked said that she would be willing to join a Likud-led coalition. Shaked, however, is unable to immediately add to the opposition bloc’s MK count, which is currently 55 seats. Under the Knesset’s so-called Norwegian Law, Shaked quit the legislature when taking on her ministerial post. She could return to the Knesset by quitting as interior minister, but it would carry a 48-hour waiting period.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

That would be a gamble for her: If Shaked and the opposition can cobble together the necessary support to form a new government in this Knesset, the move could make sense. But if the opposition fails to swap the government before dispersal is finalized, then Shaked loses the opportunity to stay at the helm of the Interior Ministry for the interim period through elections and the formation of a new government, which is expected to last at least until November.

Shaked and the remaining non-Bennett members of Yamina could contribute up to 4 seats to the Netanyahu-led opposition, and the next potential contenders to fill the remaining gaps are MKs from Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.

But on Tuesday, Gantz said that Netanyahu had broken his trust and said he was calling for a broad unity government after the elections.

“Netanyahu used up the political credit that one can give him and therefore there’s nothing to talk about,” Gantz said, in response to reporters asking about joining up with the Likud leader either during the current Knesset or following elections.

New Hope was said to be in negotiations with Likud earlier this month, but reportedly ended contact following the opposition’s successful block of a periodically required bill to renew the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank.

Orbach has been reported to have been promised a guaranteed spot on Likud’s party slate for his rebellion against the coalition. On Monday, Lapid said that it is “illegal” to trade a secured spot on a party slate in exchange for votes against the coalition, and that such behavior would be investigated. On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that he has a number of secured spots to hand out, and that he’ll “take into account” the fact that lawmakers like Orbach “remained loyal to ideology.”

Assuming the bid to form an alternative government in this Knesset fails, elections are expected at the end of October or early November, with November 1 emerging as a likely date.

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