Coalition Struggling to Control Internal Dissension

By Yisrael Price

MK Mansour Abbas and other Arab MK’s at the Knesset, Wednesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – Prospects for survival of the Bennett-Lapid coalition did not look any better on Wednesday evening after a stinging legislative setback in the Knesset earlier in the week.

The failure on Monday night to pass an urgent measure to maintain Israeli criminal and civil law for Israelis living in Yehuda and Shomron, ramped up speculation that the demise of the government was imminent.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has been saying that the coalition’s survival hinges on the bill, said he intends to bring the legislation up for another vote next Monday.

However, Meretz MK Rinawie Zoabi, whose conspicuous vote against it on Monday helped to defeat the measure, told associates she will vote against the bill again, according to Channel 12 and Haaretz.

It was not known on Wednesday what Ra’am MKs and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman will do. Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and Silman were absent from the plenum on Monday.

Although Foreign Minister Yair Lapid declared after the vote that MKs who could not support the coalition should leave the Knesset, a reference to Zoabi, among others, she claimed on Wednesday that she had agreed with Lapid to stay in the coalition as long as she could refrain from supporting “laws that go against my conscience and harm Arab society and the Palestinian issue.”

Sources close to Lapid denied to Channel 12 that such an agreement was made, saying that he “did not and will not agree for every lawmaker within the coalition to do as they please.”

Passage of the contentious bill would keep in place the situation in which Palestinians in Yehuda and Shomron are denied the same legal protections as Israelis, subjecting them to IDF administration, an outcome the Arab MKs object to. The right-wing opposition is voting against the bill in order to bring down the government, even though, in principle, they support the measure. Their intention is to pass it once they are back in power.

The coalition was also frustrated on Monday when Silman cast her first vote against it, on a motion to reinstate Yamina MK Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister. Kahana had stepped down temporarily to bolster the coalition’s numbers in the plenum.

Yamina party director-general, Stella Weinstein, on Wednesday called on both Silman and Zoabi to resign.

“Silman and Rinawie Zoabi are holding their mandate hostage, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a political mistake for them to stay [in Knesset],” she told Ynet.

Meanwhile, Yamina MK Nir Orbach’s denied a report that he intends to leave the coalition. If the report proves true, though, his departure would result in 61 MKs in the opposition, likely leading to the dissolution of the Knesset and new elections.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was busy mending another tear in his government on Wednesday, trying to persuade Blue and White MK Michael Biton to stay on.

“It was a good meeting and I hope and believe that things will work out,” Biton said after a meeting with Bennett, with representatives from the finance and transportation ministries attending.

Biton, who chairs the Economic Affairs Committee, briefly boycotted the coalition three weeks ago, charging the transport ministry bypassed him to propose sweeping changes to the public transportation fare regime, which he opposes.

“The Prime Minister knows that this is not a political struggle, but a value-based ​​one,” Biton said. Most of the fare increases involve peripheral areas that have enjoyed significantly lower transport prices. “I cannot allow harm to the weak, the Negev and the Galil,” he added.

Silman’s office denied a report that she threatened to retaliate against Orbach if he votes to oust her from Yamina, which would bar her from running in the next election with any existing party.

According to the report, Silman possesses documents damaging to Orbach that she will release if he supports her ouster. “It should be clarified to Nir that I have all his correspondences, all the Jewish Home reports,” referring to a now-defunct party that both were members of. “Nir will be destroyed by this,” she was quoted as saying.

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