Yamina faction chair quits coalition increasing odds for new elections

June 14, 2022 by Gil Tanenbaum - TPS
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Coalition MK and the leader of that party’s faction in the Knesset, Nir Orbach, has announced his intention to withdraw as a member of Israel’s current coalition government.

Nir Orbach, Director General of The Jewish Home party, during Yamina party event on elections night, Sep 18, 2019. Photo by Ehud Amiton/TPS

This marks just the latest in a number of such defections made by MKs from coalition parties,

Orbach said that he informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Monday morning, “in the current state of affairs – I am not part of the coalition.”

In a statement he released, Orbach explained his reasons for doing so, saying, “After a week of meetings with the Prime Minister and other parties, I came to the conclusion that the coalition could not continue to exist in its current conduct.”

Orbach is also bothered by his party – an ostensibly right-wing party – sitting on a coalition government with the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties and supported from the outside by the Arab Ra’am Party.

Support from Arab parties, including the more extreme Joint Arab List, to keep the coalition government in office was cited by Orbach as one of his reasons for quitting. In his statement, Orbach declared, “I will not allow the government to rely on the joint list. Unfortunately, we are on the verge of a slippery slope that could lead us there.”

He also said that “extremist and anti-Zionist elements such as [Arab] MKs Ghanaim and Zoabi took the coalition in problematic directions, and used it as their hostage.”

Acknowledging that a year ago, he agreed with his coalition partners on the overriding need for putting a final end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule after 13 years in a row, Orbach added that he “believed that it was possible and necessary to get Israel out of the spin, we formed a coalition based on very clear guidelines, both at the ideological level and at the executive level.”

“Unfortunately, the coalition today is not fulfilling its mission,” he added.

This move could not come at a worse time for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition. It recently lost the support of a number of its member MKs in crucial Knesset votes. For example just last week, Rinawie Zoabi, an Arab MK from the left-wing coalition partner Meretz Party, voted against a bill crucial to the government. The coalition lost that vote.

And on Sunday Zoabi said that she is not sure that she will be able to support the coalition in the future.

Nir Orbach’s defection follows his Yamina Party colleague Idit Silman, who resigned recently as the chair of the entire coalition in the Knesset. She did so over objections to what Silman said were government actions hurting the Jewish character of Israel, such as serving non-kosher for Passover food in hospitals.

In that way Silman and Orbach, who are both orthodox and identify with Israel’s National religious community, are insisting on adhering to the political roots of the Yamina Party. Yamina was formed out of the remnants of Israel’s long-time National Religious Party in coalition with several right-wing parties.

Orbach’s announcement came just one day after the coalition government marked its first anniversary. On Sunday, Naftali Bennett sounded celebratory in his statement marking that milestone. He touted its achievements while skirting the issue of just how precarious a situation the government is currently in.

Orbach, in contrast, acknowledged the coalition government’s failures along with its successes.

“On the one hand, throughout the year we worked on a variety of issues to strengthen and fortify the State of Israel” he said. “And on the other hand

Orbach went on to say that the government has failed to lift the spirits of the people, explaining that in his opinion this is the main task of any government. But he came short of calling for new elections, thereby leaving open the possibility of joining with other MKs in trying to form a new government.

“I do not think going to the polls is the preferred alternative,” he said. “Election rounds do not serve the stability required for government in the country. In the coming week, I will not vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset.”

Orbach also promised to do his best for a “stable government with a national spirit, as we pledged about a year ago.”

While Naftali Bennett’s coalition may be dying a slow death, it is not clear at this time if its days are truly numbered.

It will be hard to get a majority in the Knesset to vote in favor of its dissolution and the holding of new elections. The smaller parties, like Ra’am and coalition partner New Hope, do not want to risk losing seats and even failing to get back into the Knesset at all. This is also true for some of the opposition parties.

As for forming an entirely new government, this seems to depend entirely on Defense Minister Benny Gantz whose faction is possibly the only member of the coalition that would sit in a government with the Likud and the ultra-orthodox parties.

But even with his Blue and White Party’s 8 seats, Likud would not be able to get the majority needed to form a new government. Nir Orbach and Idit Silman could vote in favor of such a new government, but the law as it stands would prohibit them from receiving any new positions in it, such as a cabinet post. They would first need to find at least one other member of the Yamina Party to join them in a break away faction. Comprising at least one third of Yamuna’s current MKs they could then declare themselves a new party.

Another problem for such a scenario is that Benny Gantz is not likely to serve again under Benjamin Netanyahu and reports indicate that he is insisting on becoming the Prime Minister in any new coalition government with the Likud. It is not likely that Benjamin Netanyahu would agree to this.

For now, Bennett’s government needs only to survive for a few more weeks, until the Knesset goes into its summer recess. Then it will probably last at least until after the holiday season this fall.

One last wild card will be the verdict in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial. Should he be acquitted, Netanyahu will probably insist on riding that wave to new elections. Should he be convicted and forced to resign from the Knesset, it would be easier for other coalition parties to bolt and join Likud in a new government.

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