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Lapid says MKs who can’t back coalition ‘should leave,’ after some torpedo key bill

Asked if government is near its end, Bennett says ‘absolutely not’; rebel lawmakers face pressure to quit Knesset as coalition weighs next steps after failing to renew settler law

(R-L) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during a discussion and a vote on the 'West Bank bill' at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(R-L) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during a discussion and a vote on the 'West Bank bill' at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition was considering its next moves on Tuesday after two of its MKs voted against a critical piece of legislation the night before, helping defeat the bill and further imperiling an already struggling government.

The legislation that was voted down on Monday night sought to renew the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis living in the West Bank. Many, including Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who spearheaded the bill, saw the vote as a test of how long the coalition could push on after losing its parliamentary majority.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim and Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voted against the measure, while the Islamist Ra’am party’s other MKs and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman were absent from the plenum, helping sink the bill in a 52-58 vote.

The coalition was then dealt another blow when Silman actively voted against the coalition and torpedoed its attempt to reinstate Yamina MK Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister. It was the first time Silman cast a key vote against the coalition since she resigned from it in early April.

Among moves being considered by the coalition following the votes was dismissing Silman as head of the Knesset’s Health Committee, according to Channel 12 news. However, the coalition was reportedly not yet planning on moving to declare her a defector.

Kahana, nonetheless, did not spare criticism of Silman. “Yesterday she proved with her actions that she is no longer part of Yamina,” the would-be-minister said. “I believe there will be consequences for this.”

“Whether I’m religious affairs minister or deputy minister is less important. What is important is the government’s stability,” Kahana said.

Sa’ar New Hope party is scheduled to convene later Tuesday to examine its future within the current coalition, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

MK Idit Silman at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, immense pressure has been put on Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi to quit, as the coalition hopes to replace them with other MKs from Meretz and Ra’am who would be more likely to back the West Bank bill in another vote.

The coalition can put up the bill for a vote every week before it expires at the end of June. If the government is dissolved before then, the bill will be automatically extended until a new coalition can vote on it.

“Those who can’t live with this coalition should leave. Those who can should commit to it. You can’t play both sides,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday morning during a Democrat TV conference.

The coalition has also been considering blocking legislation proposed by Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi as means of pressuring them to quit. At the end of the day, however, the final decision to quit or not lies with the lawmaker alone.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz speaks at party meeting in Tel Aviv, June 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, the health minister, stressed the importance of preventing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power and said that anyone not committed to the current coalition is welcome to leave.

“This government is important to us, it’s important to Israel. Meretz has achieved many accomplishments as part of it. We are committed to replacing Netanyahu and stopping [far-right leaders Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben Gvir. Meretz will not be a part of a process that brings them back to power,” Horowitz vowed.

“It requires an effort and tough decisions. Those who can’t stand difficulties are welcome to pack their things. I am working relentlessly to preserve this government and prevent elections. I’m convinced we’ll make it,” he added.

Earlier, Meretz MK Yair Golan criticized his party member Rinawie Zoabi and the Ra’am party for working against the coalition. “I think the Ra’am MKs [who voted against the bill or were absent from the vote] made a fatal mistake. And I’m disappointed by Zoabi,” he told Ynet.

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)

Ghanaim has defended his decision to vote against the bill. “I will continue to vote according to my beliefs,” he told the Walla news site.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, “who wasn’t able to keep the support of his party members, is the one who should be taking responsibility for his actions,” the Ra’am MK said.

Ghanaim charged that Bennett’s government had failed to “make this experiment work,” referring to Ra’am’s joining the coalition, the first Arab party to do so in decades.

After Ghanaim opposed the bill Monday night, Yamina MK Nir Orbach shouted at him: “You aren’t interested in being partners. The experiment with you has failed.”

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim (left) attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the bill failed to pass, the Likud-led opposition, headed by Netanyahu, urged Bennett to resign, while Lapid tried to shrug off the defeat, promising to “win the next round.”

Bennett, meanwhile, insisted that the coalition will live on. Asked by the Ynet news site whether the coalition was nearing its end, Bennett said: “Absolutely not.”

Speaking during a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday morning, Bennett touted the government’s accomplishments since it was sworn in a year ago.

“This has been the quietest year for residents of the south since the [2005] disengagement [from Gaza],” the Israeli premier said, claiming strategic successes in facing Iran and addressing crime and violence in the Arab society.

A recent Channel 12 survey found that Netanyahu’s bloc would win 59 seats if elections were held today, putting it near a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, but suggesting further political deadlock if the current government collapses. Israel has been through four grueling elections since 2019 as the opposing blocs struggle to form a sturdy majority in the Knesset.

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