Will bill to force elections advance, signaling beginning of the end for coalition?

If Likud brings legislation for preliminary vote Wednesday and it passes, it must still clear further hurdles — but the momentum it creates could be fatal for Bennett’s government

Carrie Keller-Lynn

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session, on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a Knesset plenum session, on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Likud-led opposition was still weighing Tuesday whether or not to attempt to bring the Knesset a step closer to snap elections on Wednesday.

And the most serious threat to the coalition — the one that will determine whether the Likud proceeds — is posed by some of its own members.

Likud is only expected to bring a bill to dissolve the Knesset to the plenum if it is confident it has the necessary votes. The bill would be submitted for a preliminary reading — the first of four required votes.

Whether or not a potential dissolution bill vote advances likely rests on the Knesset’s two Arab factions: Ra’am and the Joint List.

Four-member coalition party Ra’am, which is in the midst of a three-week “freeze” on voting with the coalition in protest of tensions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa complex, is currently not expected to backstop the coalition on Wednesday.

The coalition and opposition are deadlocked with 60 seats each, following last month’s surprise resignation by Yamina MK Idit Silman. Without Ra’am, the coalition is down to 56 votes.

And leaders of the opposition’s majority Arab Joint List party said its six members would vote in favor of dissolution on Wednesday.

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, attends a party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 3, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“All six members of the Joint List will participate in the vote [tomorrow]. All of us will vote to dissolve the Knesset. Period,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh confirmed on Tuesday evening to Channel 12.

It’s expected that the opposition’s 54-seat right-religious bloc — outspoken in its criticism of the government — will also vote in favor of dissolution in the preliminary vote, with the exception of Yamina defector Idit Silman, who is expected to abstain.

If so, the the opposition is headed for at 59 votes in all. If Ra’am is a no-show Wednesday, the coalition, by contrast, could muster 56 votes at most to oppose the bill.

If the proposal is submitted but doesn’t pass the preliminary reading, the opposition would have to wait another 6 months to try again, removing a significant weapon from its arsenal.

If it passes, the bill still has a long way to go before becoming a law. In its preliminary reading, the bill only requires a simple majority of votes cast. In the future three votes, it would need an absolute majority (at least 61 out of the Knesset’s 120).

Still, preliminary passage could affect coalition morale and potentially create further cracks.

If it advances, the bill would move to a committee for further preparation. There the coalition could still hold some cards.

“The committee doesn’t have to move the bill forward,” said Chen Friedberg, a legislative expert at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Dr. Chen Friedberg, research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Political Reform Program. (Courtesy: IDI)

“If it passes by a small majority” — meaning fewer than 61 MKs on its preliminary reading — “then the head of the committee has a lot of power. He can push the discussion on this proposal way back,” Friedberg said, confirming that this could mean several months until the next vote.

Conversely, if a 61-strong majority of the 120-seat Knesset really wants to disband itself, as it did most recently in December 2020, the process could move quickly.

According to Friedberg, in such a case, it could be as swift as “one to three days,” to pass the bill through committee and the additional three votes.

The committee could technically gum the legislative wheels even with 61 MKs in favor, but Friedberg said the panel would be unlikely to try to stall the declared will of an absolute majority of MKs, which would be grounds for the opposition to petition the High Court of Justice to force its hand.

Past bills to dissolve the Knesset have gone to the House Committee, and a Likud source confirmed that this is likely where the bill would head if it advances on Wednesday. The House Committee is chaired by Yamina MK Nir Orbach.

Orbach was recently considered a flight risk in the immediate aftermath of his Yamina colleague and former whip Silman’s April 6 resignation from the coalition. The House Committee chair quickly issued an “ultimatum” to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, demanding movement on issues connected to settlements and daycare subsidies for Yeshiva students.

Orbach is coordinating his moves with fellow Yamina MKs Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Abir Kara. Should Orbach bolt and the opposition gain a majority in support of breaking up the government, possibly with Shaked and Kara, the issue of stalling the bill may become moot.

MK Nir Orbach attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Incentivizing defectors to break up the government might be the biggest threat the bill poses.

Since Silman’s resignation, Likud and other opposition party members have been vocal about their efforts to pry away additional MKs from the coalition. Reports swirled this week citing Likud sources who claimed they were in talks with potential defectors, without naming names.

A source within the opposition Haredi party United Torah Judaism said this was what the dispersion bill might inspire: agitation and movement within the Knesset. UTJ has clearly stated its preference to create a new right-wing government from within the current Knesset, rather than dissolving the House for new general elections.

Questions also remain about the likelihood of Ra’am returning to the coalition. The political party of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ra’am is guided by the movement’s Shura Council, which met on Tuesday evening to discuss its fate in the coalition.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas on Saturday wrote on Facebook that, to heal the rift over the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa complex, Ra’am would align with demands put forward by the Jordanian crown and the decisions of a joint Israeli-Jordanian committee. Jordan is the custodian of the holy site.

The following morning, Bennett signaled an opposite intention, opening his weekly cabinet meeting by saying: “All decisions regarding the Temple Mount and Jerusalem will be made by the Israeli government, which holds sovereignty over the city, without any foreign considerations.”

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