Apr 6, 2022 - World

Israeli government on brink of collapse after key lawmaker quits coalition

Naftali Bennett

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli government lost its majority in the Knesset on Wednesday when the coalition whip from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Yamina party announced she was joining the opposition.

Why it matters: The dramatic political development brings the fragile Israeli coalition — which until now had a narrow one-seat majority — to the brink of collapse less than a year after it was formed.

Driving the news: Coalition whip Idit Silman announced Wednesday morning she couldn’t support the unity government and called for the formation of a new right-wing government without holding fresh elections.

  • Silman used the pretext of a memo the minister of health sent to government hospitals a few days ago instructing them to uphold a High Court ruling allowing people to bring leavened foods into hospitals on Passover.
  • "I couldn’t allow it to harm Israel’s Jewish identity," she said.

Behind the scenes: But this wasn't the real reason, according to two political sources in the coalition, who said in recent weeks Silman faced pressure from her family and friends to leave the coalition.

  • Last month's terror attacks and growing criticism by the settler lobby about the government not giving building permits in settlements in the occupied West Bank heightened the pressure on Silman.
  • But what led to her final decision was a purported political deal she reached with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised her a top spot on the Likud list in the next elections and the Ministry of Health if Likud forms the next government, according to the coalition sources.
  • Bennett was caught completely off guard, only hearing about Silman's move when his aides saw the media's push notifications reporting it, the sources said.
  • Bennett was supposed to meet Silman on Wednesday, but she canceled the meeting and stopped taking calls from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday, the sources added.

What they're saying: Netanyahu welcomed Silman’s decision and said, "She proved that what interests her is the Jewish identity of Israel."

  • Netanyahu called on other right-wing members of the coalition to follow Silman "and come back home."
  • He has not commented on the reported deal he made with Silman.

Bennett met with his party later on Wednesday and said the main focus should be on stabilizing the coalition, according to the prime minister's office.

  • Bennett added he wants to use the crisis as a way to improve, stressing that the alternative is going back to never-ending election cycles and the destabilization of the country.

Between the lines: Silman’s move represents the further disintegration of Bennett’s party. She is the second Knesset member to leave Yamina since Bennett formed the government, dropping the number of Knesset members in the prime minister's party to just five.

What to watch: The main question is whether other members of Bennett’s party will follow Silman’s move.

  • At least two others — Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Knesset member Nir Orbach — spoke publicly about their discomfort with some of the government’s policies.
  • If one of them leaves the coalition, the opposition will have a 61-member majority and could dissolve the Knesset and call a new election.

The bottom line: The Knesset is in recess until May 8, so no vote can take place until then. The government could theoretically survive with only 60 seats until March 2023, when a new budget has to be approved.

  • It will be almost impossible for Netanyahu to form a government in the current Knesset because he doesn’t have 61 lawmakers to support it, making a new election in the coming months highly likely.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details from Bennett's meeting with his party.

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