Yamina rebel Orbach said nearing deal to defect to Likud

Report says lawmaker was promised 19th spot on Likud’s electoral slate for next election, plus a ministerial role; coalition fears preliminary Knesset dispersal vote next week

Yamina MK Nir Orbach seen leaving the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, June 12, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina MK Nir Orbach seen leaving the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, June 12, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina MK Nir Orbach and the opposition Likud party have agreed on the main points of his potential defection, Channel 12 news has reported.

The agreement would see Orbach getting the 19th spot on the party’s electoral slate for the next election and a ministerial role in the next government, the Wednesday evening report said.

Orbach sought to head the Education Ministry in a Likud-led government, but the party refused to hand over such a significant portfolio, the report said. Instead Likud has promised to find him a suitable ideologically rich job, such as settlements minister.

Orbach has denied reports that he is in negotiations with Likud. On Monday Orbach announced that he was freezing his membership in the coalition, accusing  “extremist, anti-Zionist elements” such as Arab MKs Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am) and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) of pulling the coalition “in problematic directions” and “holding it hostage.”

According to Kan news, the coalition, now in a minority in the Knesset, fears that Orbach will vote in support of a preliminary motion to disperse the Knesset next week. (The bill would need only a simple majority in the preliminary vote, but would have to pass three more readings with the support of 61 or more MKs to be successful.)

If Orbach, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party, casts the deciding vote in downing the government, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would become interim prime minister until a new government is formed following elections, according to the coalition agreement between Lapid and Bennett.

Nir Orbach and Idit Silman during a Knesset plenum vote in Jerusalem on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Channel 12 reported that Lapid is already expanding his staff to prepare for the potential challenge of simultaneously being prime minister, foreign minister and a party leader during an election campaign.

The coalition has been eulogized several times over the past few months, given the alarming rate of resignations by members. But so far, each time, Bennett and Lapid have managed to stanch the bleeding and hobble on.

In quitting the coalition, Orbach became the third Yamina MK to desert Bennett, who is left with just four party members in the coalition. MK Amichai Chikli bolted before the government was even sworn in, over its inclusion of left-wing parties. Idit Silman, who was coalition whip, quit the coalition in April, saying it was eroding the Jewish character of the state.

While Chikli has regularly voted against the coalition since, Silman has been more careful, in an apparent effort to avoid being designated a rebel and being slapped with sanctions. Orbach’s statement hinted that he will pursue the latter route. Unlike Silman, though, he informed Bennett of his decision ahead of time.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, Meretz’s Rinawie Zoabi announced that she was quitting the coalition — leaving it temporarily with 59 MKs — only to walk back the move days later following intensive talks with Lapid, Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas and others. However, that ordeal exposed an additional weak spot in the coalition, which was highlighted last week when the rebel Meretz MK refused to vote for a bill renewing the extension of legal provisions to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.

Both Ra’am’s Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi have vowed to vote against the settlers law again should it come up for another vote, which may have led to Orbach’s decision to quit. However, his office clarified that he would still vote in favor of the bill, despite having left the coalition, out of “national responsibility.”

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