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MK Smotrich requests urgent plenum session to vote on dissolving Knesset

Call to convene parliament during recess comes after Ra’am temporarily withdraws from coalition, with far-right leader saying in letter to speaker there is ‘no escaping elections’

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of opposition parties at the Knesset, on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of opposition parties at the Knesset, on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Zionism party leader Betzalel Smotrich sent a request to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy on Monday to hold a special plenum session after the Passover holiday next week in order to vote on dissolving parliament and holding new elections.

Parliament is currently in recess and is not due to reconvene until May 9.

The far-right opposition lawmaker’s request came after the Islamist Ra’am party’s temporary withdrawal from the government and parliament on Sunday, which left the beleaguered coalition in a minority in the Knesset.

“As you probably know very well, after the withdrawal of your partners from the Ra’am party from the coalition, the government and the coalition do not have a majority,” wrote Smotrich to Levy.

“The current situation in which the government is in fact a minority government that does not hold a majority in the Knesset critically harms democracy and as a result also public trust,” he continued.

Smotrich added that due to the current situation, “there is no escaping dissolving the Knesset and holding elections,” and noted that there are over 61 MKs in the 120-seat House who are not members of the coalition.

On Sunday, Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas announced the temporary membership freeze, given mounting pressure on the party over the recent violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Coalition sources told Channel 12 late Monday that if Smotrich can muster the necessary 61 signatures calling for the Knesset to reconvene during the recess, the coalition would not seek to prevent a debate on dissolving parliament. It is not clear, however, that the opposition could muster the minimum 61 votes necessary to pass a law dissolving the Knesset and forcing new elections, as the opposition bloc loyal to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu can only muster some 54 votes, and it is doubtful such a move would be backed by many more MKs.

Netanyahu tweeted after a rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israel late Monday that the country needs “a strong right-wing government immediately that will restore calm and security to the citizens of Israel.”

Ra’am’s decision to freeze its coalition membership is largely declarative at this stage, because parliament is in recess, though opposition sources said Sunday that they saw it as a further opportunity to weaken the coalition, encourage defections, and bring down the government.

According to political sources quoted in Hebrew media Sunday, the Ra’am measure — which will last for two weeks and is coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — is aimed at easing the pressure on the party, and to prevent a permanent break with the government.

Ra’am Party leader MK Mansour Abbas attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am officials appear to be hoping that by the time parliament reconvenes on May 9, the situation will calm down.

The government is already in turmoil after MK Idit Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, bolted the coalition, erasing its razor-thin majority.

The Likud party, the largest in the opposition, has since been trying to pry more coalition MKs away, in the hope of replacing the government.

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