The eight-party coalition that aims to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears increasingly likely to secure the necessary majority support in the Knesset, Israel’s two main news stations reported Friday night.
The assessment among all members of the “change bloc,” led by Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, is that the coalition will indeed be sworn in, Channel 12 said, with a wafer-thin 61-59 majority.
Channel 12 said that the MK deemed potentially most problematic, Yamina’s Nir Orbach, on Friday told several people who are trying to persuade him to vote against the coalition: “Don’t place your expectations on me. Unless there is some dramatic change, I intend to enable the establishment of this government, either by actively backing it [in the Knesset vote] or by resigning from the Knesset.”
Were Orbach to resign, the Yamina lawmaker who would take his place is Shirley Pinto, who has said repeatedly that she strongly supports the planned government.
Channel 13 also reported that Orbach will either vote for the government or resign from the Knesset, paving the way for Pinto to take his place and back it.
Orbach was quoted by Channel 13 saying, “I won’t do what Chikli did,” in reference to rebel Yamina MK Avichai Chikli, who pledged several days ago to vote against the government, reducing its support from 62 to 61 MKs.
Chikli told Channel 12 on Friday evening: “I wasn’t able to convince Orbach” to join him in voting against the coalition, “and I’ve stopped working on that.”
Another Yamina MK deemed a potential defector by Netanyahu’s Likud, Idit Silman, announced earlier on Friday that she had taken a final decision to vote in favor of the so-called “change government.”
Both TV channels indicated there were some milder concerns that New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin — a former Likud minister who quit Netanyahu’s party in December and has castigated his leadership — might not vote for the coalition; Channel 12 said some think Elkin might “disappear” when the vote is held. But the same channel said New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar has said he “knows how to ensure” that all his party members vote in favor.
Since the confidence vote is only likely to be held on June 14, however, and since the coalition is heading to a 61-59 majority, whereby a single defection could doom it, the potential for the picture to change cannot be discounted, in part because the various coalition agreements have not been finalized, and especially given the potential for Israel’s fast-moving political and security reality to change within days, hours or even minutes.
On June 10, for instance, a controversial Flag March is reportedly to be held in Jerusalem, with some unconfirmed Hebrew media reports Friday saying the mainly Orthodox-nationalist participants have been given police permission to parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Organizers said the march has been rescheduled from May 10, Jerusalem Day, when it was rerouted and then halted in mid-event as Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward the city, at the start of what became an 11-day mini-war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Lapid announced to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night that he and his allies had mustered a majority coalition. But the Knesset will only be formally notified to this effect on Monday, June 7. By law, the Knesset Speaker, Likud’s Yariv Levin, then has up to a week to schedule the confidence vote in the new government, and is expected to use that full period in order to give Netanyahu and his allies maximal time to try to thwart it.
Netanyahu, who has held power for over 12 years, in addition to a three-year stint from 1996-1999, is urging right-wing members of the emerging coalition to bolt from it before it can be voted in. His ally, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi, said Friday that Likud would “fight to the end” to prevent it if possible.
The intended coalition brings together eight parties from across the political spectrum: The right-wing Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu, the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, the left-wing Labor and Meretz, and the conservative Islamic party Ra’am. Bennett is set to serve as prime minister until August 2023, with Lapid to succeed him for the subsequent two years.
The unprecedentedly diverse alliance of parties numbers 61 members in the 120-seat Knesset, the narrowest possible majority, and is thus vulnerable to any single defection: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (4).
The members of the eight parties are set to meet on Sunday for the first time, to bolster their alliance.
Yamina leader Bennett and his deputy Ayelet Shaked recognize that they need to “strengthen” Orbach “every day, if not every hour” to ensure he does not submit to pressure from right-wing critics to bolt the nascent coalition, Channel 13 said. Orbach is not spending this Shabbat at his home, Channel 13 said, as he seeks to get away from pro-Netanyahu demonstrators who have been protesting outside his home and the homes of other Yamina members. A major demonstration is reportedly planned outside Orbach’s home next Monday afternoon.
Shaked, who herself publicly wavered over joining the coalition earlier this week, “changed diskette” when it became clear to her that there was no way for Netanyahu to muster a majority, Channel 12 reported, and has been working to persuade her party colleagues to back the new coalition. Shaked played a vital role on Wednesday night, as the coalition was finalized, in persuading Orbach not to come out publicly against it and doom the move, Channel 13 said.
Meanwhile, Mansour Abbas, the leader of Ra’am — the first Arab party in Israeli history to play a crucial role in the establishment of a government — is urging the two-member Ta’al party, headed by MK Ahmad Tibi, to also join the coalition, Channel 13 said, though it would not be expected to do so before the Knesset swearing-in vote.