Lapid: If Orbach gets reserved spot on Likud list, we’ll probe if it’s legal

Foreign minister says law prohibits trading a guaranteed election spot for vote against government; Yamina MK Orbach reportedly negotiating for Likud slot

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

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid reports that Yamina MK Nir Orbach is negotiating for a guaranteed spot on Likud’s party slate, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that trading reserved slots for votes against the government is “illegal” and that such behavior will be investigated.

“Such a thing can’t happen without being investigated. We will make sure that it’s investigated,” Lapid said, in response to media questions at the outset of his Yesh Atid party’s Monday faction meeting.

Orbach currently poses the coalition’s biggest threat. He abandoned the political alliance a week ago over its inability to renew legislation applying Israeli law to Israelis living in the West Bank, which he viewed as a last straw in a year that saw all parties make ideological compromises to keep the eight-faction, cross-spectrum coalition intact.

In his resignation announcement, Orbach wrote that he would work to form an alternative right-wing government from within the existing Knesset. Orbach also promised not to lend his vote to a bill to disperse the Knesset and force an election last week. While he has been tight-lipped about his future votes, he is expected to give Bennett a little more breathing room and not support a dispersal bill at the opposition’s next chance to bring it to vote this Wednesday.

“The law prohibits offering a guaranteed party spot to someone in order for them to vote against the government,” Lapid declared. “It’s illegal.”

Section 57a of the Knesset Elections Law states that agreements to secure party roster spots are prohibited, but does not specify consequences.

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

“No agreement will be made and no commitment will be given to secure a place on the list of Knesset candidates for a particular Knesset member or group of people, except after the 90th day before Knesset election day,” reads the statute. Ninety days is the minimum period required between a Knesset’s dissolution and election day.

On Sunday, Yesh Atid lawmaker Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu, head of the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, petitioned the Attorney General’s Office to ask whether Likud had broken the law in allegedly offering Orbach a party spot in exchange for leaving the coalition.

“It’s corruption, but beyond corruption, it’s breaking the law,” Lahav-Hertzanu told Radio 103FM on Monday morning. Lahav-Hertzanu said that he has yet to receive a response from the attorney general.

Lahav-Hertzanu’s request follows indications by Likud MKs that the party plans to grant up to three guaranteed roster spots to defectors. Two of those three are reportedly in negotiations to go to Orbach and to Yamina MK Idit Silman, who deprived the coalition of its majority when she resigned from it in early April. Without Orbach, the coalition is at a 59-seat minority.

Orbach, despite stepping away from the coalition, still has not voted against it. He has created a tug-of-war situation in which both the coalition and opposition are trying to solidify their hold over him.

Lapid, for his part, reinforced previously delivered messages that an ideologically diverse coalition is challenging, and MKs who cannot stand abide by coalition discipline should make space for others who can.

“Anyone it’s too hard for, go home. Anyone who can’t stand the pressure, quit,” the foreign minister said.

In addition to Orbach, the coalition is currently facing three additional MK rebellions. Two of them, Meretz’s Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi and Ra’am’s Mazen Ghanaim, reject coalition discipline over ideological issues tied to Arab society, and the third, Blue and White’s Michael Biton, is boycotting most votes in protest against public transportation reforms.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who hopes to return to power if the coalition falls, called on Orbach to “complete the job” of returning to the right during Likud’s faction meeting.

Addressing Orbach, Netanyahu said: “You have already taken an important step to disengage from this dangerous government — now is the time to complete the job.”

If snap elections were to be called, the earliest that elections could be held is the end of October. To hold them before, the Knesset would have to dissolve before this coming Wednesday, a highly unlikely effort that would require coalition and opposition cooperation to push a bill through its full cycle of readings. Given the 90-day minimum period and the requirement that elections be held on a Tuesday, this year’s Jewish holiday schedule would delay election day until late fall.

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