Sa’ar to try again to advance settler law bill, admits coalition may be on last legs

Justice minister says he ‘cannot be blind to the possibility that this [coalition] experiment has run its course,’ but insists he won’t sit in a government with Netanyahu

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Justice Minister Gideon Saar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Saar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar appeared to give his faltering coalition a stay of execution Tuesday evening, saying he plans to try a second time to pass key legislation that he had previously positioned as do-or-die for the government.

That law, which is needed to continue extending Israeli legal provisions to settlers living in the West Bank, failed in a dramatic vote late Monday evening after some coalition members refused to back it, a scenario Sa’ar had previously envisioned spelling doom for the coalition after a year in power.

However, in interviews on all three TV networks’ nightly news broadcasts, Sa’ar suggested that there is still a possibility for the coalition to recover, and said he intends to bring the legislation up for another vote next week.

“I will bring to the next cabinet meeting the West Bank legal bill once again,” he told the Kan public broadcaster, “and I will work to ensure that the situation will be different than it was yesterday.”

Before the vote, Sa’ar — head of the right-wing New Hope party and a former Likud minister — had said that voting down such legislation would be a red line the government cannot cross.

“If the coalition doesn’t get a grip on itself, there will be consequences. It really endangers the continued existence of the government,” he said on Friday.

Sa’ar said Tuesday that those members of the coalition who voted against the legislation — Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim — should resign their posts, making way for new lawmakers to replace them. His comments echoed those of others in the government, but the future of the two MKs in question remains unclear.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (L) speaks with Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“All those from Ra’am and Meretz who did not support the legislation were actively working to bring down the government,” Sa’ar told Kan.

Until the parties get their members to toe the line, Sa’ar said, “they are not part of the coalition.”

The media blitz by the minister came amid rampant speculation that he may be on his way out of the coalition. Reports have detailed alleged talks between Sa’ar and Likud, his former political home, toward setting up an alternative right-wing-ultra-Orthodox government under opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Sa’ar has denied such contacts.

Despite his vow to bring the bill for another vote, Sa’ar indicated that he understands the government may be on its last legs.

“I cannot be blind to the possibility that this experiment has run its course,” Sa’ar told Channel 12, referring to the ideologically diverse governing coalition that was sworn in one year ago. “If the left-wing of the government does not recover, that will be the case.”

He said that if the current government cannot pass the legislation renewing the application of Israeli law to settlers, which he called fundamental to the future of the Jewish state, “it is on a slippery slope whose end is very clear.”

Sa’ar reiterated the vow he made before the last election not to join a future Netanyahu-led government. The actions of Likud on Tuesday, Sa’ar said — voting against legislation it supports just to embarrass the current government — only further strengthened his determination to stay away.

“In the past, I rejected sitting with Netanyahu and I have not changed my mind,” he told Channel 12. “What happened with the vote on the bill only strengthened my view.”

In response, Likud issued a statement that “the citizens of Israel expected to hear Gideon Sa’ar stand behind his words that a government that cannot pass Zionist laws cannot continue.”

Instead, the party said, Sa’ar “continued to keep on life support this dangerous government.”

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