Battle lines drawn as coalition and opposition resume clash over Knesset’s fate

A political tussle is set to take place Monday in the Knesset as the coalition pushes forward with its drive to put to sleep a parliament wrested from its control amid long-shot efforts by the opposition to thrust former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into power.

Sitting at the center of the clamor, rebel Yamina MK Nir Orbach said Thursday that he would convene his Knesset House Committee on the coming Monday, allowing a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call snap elections to go to the first of three full votes as early as later that day. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to become prime minister during the transition period, swapping out Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Orbach’s refusal to move the legislation since it won preliminary support Wednesday has given the opposition time to try to cobble together an alternate government led by the thrice-indicted Netanyahu.

Yet despite Orbach’s announcement, opposition sources say they will continue to attempt to keep the Knesset on life support to allow for more time to assemble a possible ruling coalition without going to new elections.

On Monday morning, Orbach announced that the start of the meeting would be delayed by 1.5 hours in another apparent attempt to stall the legislation.

Should their long-shot bid to build a new coalition fail, the Knesset will close up shop and new elections will be set for sometime in the fall, with current TV polling predicting a possible continuation of the stalemate that has persisted since 2019, though Bennett could break it by joining a Netanyahu-led hard-right coalition.

It has been a week since Bennett and Lapid announced their embattled minority big-tent coalition, riven by ideological divides, could no longer hold power and would send voters back to the polls for the fifth time in three-and-a-half years.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach leads a House Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 21, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Resigned to its disbandment and preferring elections to the possibility of a Likud-led government, most coalition members are pushing for a quick death for the Knesset.

The bid to speed along the Knesset’s demise got a boost Sunday as Orbach was chastised by a Knesset legal adviser, who said he could not unduly delay legislation that had won overwhelming support. The criticism came in response to complaints from the coalition, which had been advised days before that the legislation could not be removed from Orbach absent an undue delay.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with MK Boaz Toporovsky (R) during a Knesset discussion, June 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Acting coalition whip Boaz Toporovsky of Yesh Atid told the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Sunday afternoon that Orbach had yet to communicate a timeline for ushering the legislation ahead.

“I have not yet received an answer from the chairman of the House Committee and I certainly tried, regarding dates and deadlines as part of the process of dispersing the Knesset,” Toporovsky said hours before Orbach scheduled the meeting.

Likud sources said the opposition nevertheless intends to “make it hard” for the coalition to not only pass the dispersal bill but also advance any other bits of legislation it hoped to mop up before time is called.

That includes legislation pushed by the government Sunday that would effectively bar Netanyahu or any other individual under indictment from the premiership, and another that would set an eight-year term limit on the post, which was held by the Likud leader from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021.

The opposition has found itself in the unique position of having teeth to put behind its threats since a series of defections from Bennett’s coalition in recent weeks have left him adrift without a majority. But despite the defections, and a large majority of right-wing aligned lawmakers, Netanyahu’s legal situation and past burning of political bridges have kept him from being able to lure the 61 Knesset members needed to support an alternative government headed by himself.

Coalition sources said they were exploring other options should Orbach continue to gum the legislative wheels, including pushing a bill directly through the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which can propose legislation on topics under its purview. The committee is led by MK Gilad Kariv of the coalition’s Labor party.

However, a Knesset legal opinion Sunday cast “great doubt” on the precedent-setting maneuver.

“The accepted interpretation of this section was that the committee could not promote a dispersal law on its behalf,” Knesset legal adviser Gur Blai testified at a committee hearing on the matter.

The route would also take two days longer than if Orbach advances a bill, which could see the Knesset disbanded in a matter of hours, though better money is on it taking until the end of the week for the bill to pass two committee reviews and three full Knesset votes.

Negotiations over the date for the election remain deadlocked, and talks have been broken down since Wednesday, amid mutual anger. Likud faction chair Yariv Levin, who is leading the talks for the opposition, was also diagnosed with COVID-19 two days later.

Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and faction chair Yariv Levin (R) lead their party’s faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a rare sign of comity between the sides, Likud sources close to the issue said the party would likely not block bills granting monetary assistance to small businesses affected in the omicron-variant coronavirus wave, as well as a bill to recognize bereaved siblings of fallen soldiers.

Although elements of the opposition and of Bennett’s Yamina party are actively working to create a new, immediate right-wing coalition, it is seen as unlikely that they’ll successfully muster the threshold number of 61 MKs necessary to swap out the government without new elections.

Last week, Interior Minister and decade-long Bennett political partner Ayelet Shaked said that she would be willing to join a Likud-led coalition, although she has since focused her public statements on taking over the reins of Yamina should Bennett leave politics.

Attention has also been focused on one-time Netanyahu political partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, although Gantz says the former prime minister has “used up [his] political credit” with him.

New Hope was said to be in negotiations with Likud earlier this month, but reportedly ended contact following the opposition’s successful block of a periodically required bill to renew the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank.

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