Rebel Yamina, Meretz MKs said to oppose West Bank law renewal, possibly dooming it

Justice minister, who has said coalition’s future is at stake, insists vote won’t be delayed, despite fact that Silman and Rinawie Zoabi’s votes are decisive in deadlocked Knesset

(L) Idit Silman, heads a committee meeting at the Knesset on November 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) and Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses a Knesset committee. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)
(L) Idit Silman, heads a committee meeting at the Knesset on November 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) and Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses a Knesset committee. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

Yamina MK Idit Silman and Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi have reportedly decided not to vote with the coalition on key legislation to renew the application of Israeli criminal and certain key civil laws to West Bank settlers.

According to Hebrew language media reports, coalition deserter Silman decided to vote against the extension bill if it were to come to vote on Monday. A source from Silman’s office denied the reports.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar indicated earlier on Monday that the bill would come to a vote Monday evening and would not be delayed further.

“From our perspective, it needs to pass today,” a spokesperson for Sa’ar said.

After reports broke about Silman’s decision, Sa’ar’s office confirmed that the plan had not changed.

“A Knesset member from the coalition who doesn’t support such a fundamental law is working actively to dissolve it,” Sa’ar said. “A country can’t be run like this.”

In recent days, Sa’ar has intensified his warnings that the coalition’s survival could be at stake if the legislation fails to pass.

He called opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to back to bill “a blow to the heart of the national interest.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The bill would renew a longstanding measure extending Israeli law to citizens living in the West Bank. The measure must be renewed every five years, and failure to pass it could have far-reaching consequences for settlers.

Although technically the extension bill could be delayed further to next week and still meet its end of June deadline, the chances of bringing the bill through its committee process, and then second, and third readings before the deadline would be slim, coalition sources said.

If a unified opposition plus Silman were to vote against the bill, it would fail in its first reading.

Soon after the announcement that Silman was planning to vote with the opposition, Rinawie Zoabi told Channel 12 news that she would not be able to vote for the law.

“The continuation of the coalition is important to me, but I cannot vote in favor of such a law,” she said.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses the Knesset plenum. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

The coalition is also concerned over whether it has the votes of all four members of the Islamist Ra’am party.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim gave an interview to the Arabic-language Makan public radio station on Monday indicating that he could vote against the legislation.

“If this government falls apart it will be the problem of Sa’ar and [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett,” Ghanaim said. “Everyone will see which way I will vote.”

Ghanaim later told the Ynet news site that “we will not bring down the government — but we are partners in it, and Sa’ar should have consulted with us before bringing the law up for a vote.”

The lawmaker also said Ra’am will formulate its position on the bill after the party’s Monday afternoon faction meeting.

MK Mazen Ghanaim (center) speaks with MK Ahmad Tibi during a Knesset plenum session, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill puts the Islamist Arab party and leftwing Arab lawmaker Rinawie Zoabi in a bind: although Ra’am and Rinawie Zoabi would prefer the continuance of the current government, bills dealing with settlement and security matters are ideologically difficult for their bases. If they were to support the coalition and the bill were to fail regardless, they would be taking a hit without delivering a win.

Despite resigning from the coalition in early April and depriving it of its majority, Silman has yet to vote against the coalition in key legislation. Rather, she has mostly abstained to date, in hopes of avoiding expulsion from her Yamina party and the significant personal repercussions that would entail for her.

However, Silman was reportedly under opposition pressure to actively vote against the coalition, even if the government were to try to up the stakes by turning the Monday vote into a confidence motion.

If Silman were to vote against a key bill, especially one doubling as a confidence measure, Yamina may have a case for ousting her from the party and inflicting potentially career-crippling sanctions.

Such decisions may be deleterious to the political health of both Silman and Yamina. Silman would forgo running with an established party in the next Knesset, whereas Yamina — if it were to oust her — could no longer count on her vote abstentions and could need to find another solution to overcome its 60-60 seat deadlock with the opposition.

MK Idit Silman chairs a Knesset Health Committee on May 10, 2022. (Flash90)

Right-wing members of the opposition, who support the bill in principle, have reiterated their refusal to vote for any legislation backed by the government, seeking to embarrass the current faltering coalition and hoping to topple it.

On the other side of the coin, Meretz MK Mossi Raz, whose left-wing party is a member of the coalition, said that while he does not support the legislation, nevertheless he will vote in favor in order to keep the government intact.

“It would be better for the country if it didn’t pass, but we signed a coalition agreement that maintains the situation in Judea and Samaria, and we are faithful to that,” Raz told the Ynet news site.

If the bill doesn’t pass, though, Raz said, “it will create a mess. What’s wrong with that? For 55 years there has been an occupation and Israelis and Palestinians have been killed. Who told the settlers they should live there?”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, tweeted on Monday an appeal to settler leaders to put pressure on opposition party leaders to vote for the extension bill.

“I call on the heads of the settlements in Judea and Samaria to come to the Knesset today and demand that [Likud head Benjamin] Netanyahu and his friends and [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel] Smotrich and his people vote in favor of regulations in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman wrote, encouraging them to “look them in the eye and see how they vote.”

Liberman later said during a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party that “Netanyahu and his friends’ position doesn’t surprise anyone.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“MK Miri Regev doesn’t care about anything. Not about rape, not about soldiers, and of course not about settlements,” he said, referring to recently recorded comments by the Likud lawmaker on opposing the government.

“For power, anything is permitted” to her.

Liberman also said a vote on the bill didn’t have to be held Monday, with the coalition currently appearing to lack a majority to pass an extension of the measure.

“We have time until the end of June…. We have to get organized, we have to be smart. And at the end of the day, we’ll pass the Judea and Samaria Regulation Law, like every other law,” he said.

The bill would renew a measure extending Israeli criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank. Though Israel has not annexed the West Bank, the measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal protections to Palestinians.

Preparing for the scenario in which the bill does not pass before the current law’s end-of-June expiration, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday at a faction meeting of his Blue and White party that he has instructed the security establishment to investigate possible workarounds to ensure legal continuity for West Bank settlers.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz said that one such option would be to have the top military commander in the West Bank issue an ordinance to apply relevant parts of Israeli criminal and civil law to settlers.

“I have instructed the security establishment to map and examine which of the regulations can be applied as directives by the regional commander, in case the legislation is delayed,” he said.

This would include such measures as potentially asking the regional commander to issue an order to extend social security to Israelis living in the West Bank, a situation that Gantz he admitted would be “absurd.”

Originally enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, the law remains an “emergency measure” that must be renewed every five years. Last passed in 2017, it is set to expire at the end of June.

A vote on the bill was postponed by Sa’ar last week after the coalition saw there was no majority to pass it.

The West Bank settlement of Efrat, January 10, 2022 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

On Sunday, Channel 12 news said the Population Authority issued an opinion saying that if the measure is not passed, Israeli residents of the West Bank will not be able to obtain new ID cards or report their address, which could also impair their ability to exercise basic rights such as voting.

Sa’ar, whose hardline New Hope party supports settlements and opposes Palestinian statehood, has said that unless the measure passes, Israeli settlers will become subject to Israel’s military justice system, which is based on Jordanian law. He said such a situation had never occurred.

While the Likud-led right-religious bloc within the opposition supports the renewal in principle, it has vowed to not help provide the majority necessary to pass it, pledging to oppose any government-sponsored legislation regardless of content.

Sitting at a tight 60-60 seat parity with the opposition in the 120-member Knesset, the big-tent coalition incorporates parties from across the political spectrum, including the Ra’am party. While Ra’am has supported contentious measures in the past, the party has complained that the coalition has failed to come through on promised earmarks, causing its four MKs to lose support on the Arab street and making them less amenable to coalition demands. Ra’am temporarily froze its participation in coalition and parliamentary activities in April in protest of the state’s handling of unrest on the Temple Mount.

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