Yamina MK issues ultimatum to Bennett on remaining in coalition

Nir Orbach puts forth series of right-wing demands as government teeters on brink of collapse; PM’s party reportedly considering labeling Chikli a defector in message to Silman

MK Nir Orbach reacts during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Nir Orbach reacts during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina MK Nir Orbach has presented Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with an ultimatum as both the party and the coalition struggle to remain stable and united following the dramatic defection of MK Idit Silman on Wednesday.

Orbach said Thursday he had three demands for remaining in the government: the reversal of the government’s plan to cancel daycare subsidies for yeshiva students; the convening of the planning commission to approve building plans for 4,000 new homes in the West Bank; and the connection of illegal settlement outposts to the power grid.

“Without a solution to these issues, I can’t stay in the coalition,” Orbach said.

Silman’s defection from the coalition — amid a rumored deal with Likud — set off a flurry of speculation that other members of the prime minister’s small right-wing party would also seek to jump ship. Following a series of Yamina party meetings on Wednesday, no further defections appear imminent, but the remaining members seem to be pressuring Bennett to advance matters that have been put on the back burner due to the coalition’s diverse makeup.

Bennett and his political partner, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, toured the city of Katzir together Thursday in a show of unity amid rumors of her potential defection. Shaked, Orbach and Yamina MK Abir Kara met overnight Wednesday in Kara’s home and reportedly agreed to work together in the coming days.

Orbach has done a great deal of work behind the scenes to answer to pressure from his national-religious base with regard to the demands he put forward. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has been pushing to end daycare subsidies for full-time yeshiva students, currently extended by the High Court of Justice for the remainder of the year.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tours Katzir with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (left) on April 7, 2022. (PMO)

To convene the West Bank construction planning committee, the coalition would have to convince Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has been dragging his heels on the affair. Gantz is also speculated to be eyeing a possible political configuration with Likud that would end the current government and form a new one.

The third coalition member that Bennett and Orbach would need to bring on board is Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas, who has struggled to deliver electricity connections to illegally built homes in his Negev base.

Kara told Army Radio on Thursday that calling new elections now was not a good solution and that he would remain in the coalition, “depending on advancing economic issues to my satisfaction.”

With Silman exiting the coalition but not the Knesset, the government is hovering on the brink of collapse, losing its majority and now holding just 60 out of 120 seats. The paths forward for the coalition and the Knesset, however, are not immediately clear, with a new election seen as the most likely outcome but the timeline and the exact outcome still uncertain.

Nir Orbach (L) Ayelet Shaked (C) and Abir Kara (R) (Flash90)

Reports have circulated that Yamina is once again considering declaring rebel MK Amichai Chikli as an official defector, which would make him unable to run in the next election under any party that is currently part of the Knesset.

Chikli, who defected from the party when the government was first formed last year and has largely identified with the opposition since then, voting against key coalition legislation including the state budget, has been heavily courted by Likud. But Yamina has refrained from officially labeling him a defector until now, out of hope that it could work with him on some matters.

Declaring Chikli a defector would purportedly serve to send a message to Silman to reconsider her departure, since applying the designation to her would prevent her from running with Likud in the next election. Hebrew media reports have indicated that Silman made a deal with Likud before her resignation that would grant her the job of health minister if the party forms the next government.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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