Just when Israel believed it was enjoying some degree of political stability, the abrupt departure of a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government sent shockwaves through Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the right-wing member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Idit Silman, announced her exit from Bennett’s Yamina political party — robbing the government of its majority.
The coalition leadership is said to have resigned following reports of secret meetings in the middle of the night between the former prime minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is desperate for a political comeback.
The crisis comes after a series of deadly attacks in Israel that have killed 11 Israelis and put severe pressure on the government. As the country remains on high alert for Ramadan, Passover and Easter, violence between Israelis and Palestinians may erupt.
In a video statement, Netanyahu congratulated Silman: “I call on everyone elected by the national camp to join Idit and come home. They will be welcomed with full respect and open arms.” He also called on other members of the government to leave and join the coalition. Hours later, Netanyahu held an opposition rally in Jerusalem, calling Bennett’s government “weak” and predicting its downfall.
At his Yamina party faction meeting, Bennett accused Netanyahu, whom the Israelis refer to as Bibi, of verbally bullying Silman but warned they would not stabilize the coalition: “The alternative is more elections and maybe more elections after that and back the days.” dangerous instability for the State of Israel. “
In her resignation letter to Bennett, Silman gave her reasons for leaving as her core values ”do not align with current[coalition]reality.”
“I am retiring from the coalition and will continue to try to persuade my colleagues to return home and form a right-wing government. I know I’m not the only one going through this.”
She was referring to a dispute with leftist Health Secretary Nitzan Horowitz over a letter he sent to hospitals urging them to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that hospitals could not prevent people from buying non-kosher food for to bring Passover. known as Hametz, during the holidays starting next week.
But it is widely believed that the real trigger for Silman’s locking of the coalition was Netanyahu’s promise to become Israel’s next health minister – if and when the former Israeli leader wins and forms a new government.
“It’s not about Silman, we convinced them that this was the right decision for Israel and the people. We hope to find another member or two of Yamina who will leave Likud and come to Likud, which is what we are currently trying to do,” said Miki Zohar, member of the Likud Knesset and a close ally of Netanyahu The Independent.
“If we want a new government, we have to convince other members to join, we are working on it. We’ll wait and see. Even if we don’t form a new government, we have no problem going to an election, the citizens can decide for themselves.”
Netanyahu has vowed to overthrow Bennett’s government from the day it sent him into opposition. He carried out Silman’s resignation while on trial for corruption. Bennett’s government had vowed to pass legislation barring Netanyahu from running Israel while facing criminal charges. But now it’s unclear whether Bennett will have the time or the votes to erect an obstacle to Netanyahu’s comeback.
The fragile coalition government made up of eight different parties – centre, left, right, Arab and Jewish – only agreed to form the coalition last June after four unsuccessful elections. Most had wildly different political ideologies but shared a desire to oust Netanyahu after more than 12 years in power. To their credit, they managed to pass the first state budget in three years.
The coalition only had a one-seat majority, but Silman’s defection means the government no longer has a majority. But neither does the opposition. The two sides are deadlocked with 60 MPs each, despite Netanyahu’s bloc comprising just 54 and the largest Arab party, the Joint List, holding six seats. They have already rejected the idea of joining Netanyahu’s bloc. Netanyahu’s chances of enlisting six more people from Bennett’s government seems an unlikely question.
A snap election is now being touted as the most likely outcome – meaning Yair Lapid would become prime minister in the interim, according to the coalition deal.
But it can’t go that fast as long as there are no more Bennett transitions. But Bennett will have a hard time passing his legislative agenda without a majority. It seems unlikely that he can last 16 months as it would only take a wayward lawmaker to help Netanyahu win a no-confidence vote and start new elections.
But all of that is at least a month away as Israel’s parliament is on pause for the holidays of Ramadan, Passover and Easter.
This gives Bennett some time to study the political chess board and find his next move.