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Efforts underway to stabilise Israeli coalition

What’s happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett related to the theme of unity during a hospital visit yesterday. He said: “The path that we must all embrace is a path of togetherness. We must not seek out what divides us and makes us different. We have different opinions, but we join hands for the sake of Israel’s citizens, we overcome disagreements and we help the country move forward.”

  • In a further effort to stabilise the government after Yamina MK Idit Silman resigned last week, the acting Coalition Chairman MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) yesterday convened the coalition faction leaders for a meeting. Toporovsky said, “We worked together against incitement, against extremism, against attacks on the rule of law, and we strengthened democracy. We mustn’t stop now. We must continue to work together to do well by the state and its citizens.”
  • In parallel, there has been heavy criticism of MK Ayman Odeh’s (Joint List) comments from across the political spectrum.
  • Earlier in the week Odeh posted a video message from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem where he called on Arab police officers to resign. He said: “ I am sending a humanitarian and patriotic message to all of the members of our people, when our position is with the Palestinian people, who are fighting for their liberty. I say to everyone who has joined (the police) to lay down his gun before the army and to return to his original people, which is fighting to free itself of injustice. Together, we will end the occupation.”
  • In an interview to Channel 13 News Prime Minister Bennett was asked about Odeh’s comments, which he called “despicable”. He added: “I am addressing every soldier and every police officer from Arab society and want to tell them: I’m proud of you. But that’s the choice here. Because Odeh’s path is a path of separatism, it’s a path of revolt against the state. I won’t disqualify anyone who wants to be part of Arab society. What Mansour Abbas, who recognises Israel as a Jewish state, he is trying to moderate, he’s trying to bring together, and that’s something that people on the outside want to disrupt — we won’t let them.”
  • Druze MK Mufid Mari (Blue and White) called Odeh an “inciter motived by political interests. I am an Israeli Druze and proud to be Israeli. If you don’t like it here, you can return your Israeli ID card and move to the West Bank. You hide behind your immunity and call on the public to break the law. You should be prosecuted.”
  • MK Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, commented saying, “Ayman Odeh spoke out in order to block the path to any possibility of political cooperation with the coalition. He is making unseemly use of the issue, at a time at which we are trying to rebuild trust between Jews and Arabs.”
  • Efforts are now underway to collect 70 MK signatures to trigger a debate in the Knesset House Committee to remove Odeh from the Knesset.

Context: Following Silman’s resignation as coalition chairperson the government – opposition is finely balanced 60-60.

  • There has been criticism that the prime minister neglected his Yamina party members and was inattentive to the pressure placed on them by the right-wing opposition. Since Silman’s resignation he has met with his faction in an effort to prevent any further fragmentation.
  • The pressure is unabating, with opposition MK Bezalel Smotrich saying that MKs from Yamina should not be allowed into synagogue because of their political behaviour.
  • The Knesset is on recess for another month, but one more resignation would give the opposition a slim majority that could force a vote to disband the Knesset and trigger another general election.
  • That vote would require the Joint List to side with the right-wing opposition to bring down the government. The party has not yet voiced a formal position on that scenario.
  • Prime Minister Bennett expressed optimism that the government could still survive and focus on consensus issues of growing the economy and reducing unemployment.
  • Odeh’s timing and the location of his video message were viewed as particularly provocative given the heightened tension around recent terror attacks and the religious holiday period.
  • The effort to remove Odeh is being led by MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud). So far, all the right-wing opposition MKs have signed, as have Yisrael Beiteinu’s MKs and some of the Yamina MKs, including Nir Orbach, the chairman of the House Committee, who said: “Ayman Odeh does not belong in the Knesset. I will convene the committee soon.”
  • However, the process is not so simple; after 70 signatures are collected, the House Committee must approve the motion by 75. The motion then moves to the Knesset plenum, which requires a 90 MK majority.
  • Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai yesterday referred to Arab Israeli police officers as “our brothers in arms.” He noted that there are over 4,000 Druze, Muslim and Christians serving in the Israel Police.

Looking ahead:  Despite the political uncertainty, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) has instructed finance ministry officials to continue to work on the next budget, because “no elections are going to be held soon”.

  • Lieberman was quoted in Maariv saying, “most likely, toward the end of June and the start of July, when Netanyahu will realise that he doesn’t have 61 votes to dissolve the Knesset, he will reach a plea bargain agreement and, as always, will desert all his friends without blinking.”

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