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Israeli government suffers setback, will try and pass crucial ordinance again next week

What happened: Israel’s governing coalition is expected to try again next week to pass legislation that regulates life for Israelis living in the West Bank, after it lost a crucial vote on Monday night.

  • In a stormy Knesset session, the coalition failed to pass the bill by 58 votes to 52.  Two members of the coalition, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz and Mazen Ghanaim of the United Arab List (UAL / Ra’am), voted against the bill.
  • The other three members of the UAL did not take part in the vote after it became evident that the coalition would not have a majority even if they voted in favour.
  • MK Idit Silman (Yamina) who quit the coalition two months ago was absent from the vote. However, in a second vote on Monday night, the coalition failed to approve the re-appointment of Yamina MK Matan Kahana as a minister. Silman voted with the opposition.

Significance of the regulations law: The ordinance regulates Israeli law for Israelis living in Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

In the absence of Israeli annexation following the 1967 Six-Day War, the government passed temporary legislation to regulate life and extend Israeli law only to its citizens living in the West Bank.

As the law remains a ‘temporary’ status, it needs to be re-approved every five years.

The current deadline is the end of June.

Ramifications for the rebels: Members of Knesset are elected on party lists, not as individuals and in principle need to vote as a party bloc.

  • However, once elected they cannot be fired. Therefore there is considerable pressure from within their own parties for the two rebels to resign from the Knesset and be replaced by the next person on the party’s list.
  • Before entering parliament Mazen Ghanaim was not a member of the UAL and was brought in due to his ability to bring in votes, particularly in his hometown Sakhnin in the Galilee. It is understood he is keen to be re-elected mayor and is conscious of how his voting record is perceived there. It is possible he could be persuaded to resign from the Knesset in return for support for his mayoral bid.
  • Rinawie Zoabi was not elected in the Meretz primary but was given a reserved slot by party leader Nitzan Horowitz.
  • Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Lapid offered her a prestigious diplomatic role as Consul-General in Shanghai. However, the appointment stalled and it’s unclear if that remains an option.
  • For Silman’s vote against the appointment of Kahana, she could be removed from her position as Chair of the Knesset’s Health Committee.
  • She could also be formally declared a rebel (as it happened to MK Amichai Chikli) which would prevent her from running in the next election with an existing party, blocking her desired path to join the Likud.
  • There is ongoing concern over the discomfort of another Yamina MK, Nir Orbach. Orbach has not left the coalition until now out of personally affinity to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He is also understood to be in close coordination with two other senior Yamina figures, Minister Ayelet Shaked and Abir Kara. If the three were to leave Yamina together, they could form a new faction and not face the same sanctions as Chikli.
  • Following the vote on Monday night, Orbach shouted at MK Ghanaim in a heated exchange: “You don’t want to be partners, the experiment with you has failed.”

Anomaly of Israeli politics: In a bizarre twist, even by Knesset’s standards, the right-wing opposition that ideologically supports West Bank settlers voted against a law they support, in order to embarrass and defeat the coalition. In reverse, left-wing parties in the coalition supported a bill they oppose in order to maintain the current coalition and prove governance.

  • The collective concern among coalition partners remains that if this government falls, leader of the Opposition Netanyahu and his right-wing allies would replace them.

Latest polling: Last night Kan TV released their latest poll: Likud receives 35 seats, Yesh Atid 20, Religious Zionist Party 10, Shas 8, Blue and White 8, Labour 7, United Torah Judaism 7, Yamina 6, Joint List 6, Israel Beiteinu 5, Meretz 4, and United Arab List 4. The New Hope party fails to cross the electoral threshold.

  • According to this poll, there would be another stalemate: the pro-Netanyahu bloc has 60 seats, the current coalition 54 and Joint List has 6 seats.

Looking ahead: Justice Minister Gideon Saar (New Hope) has reiterated that the bill for Israelis in the West Bank is “fundamental legislation” and is determined to reintroduce the bill, possibly as early as next week, in order for it to pass three readings by the end of the month.

  • Saar has repeatedly warned: “If the coalition can’t pass legislation, it has no right to exist.”

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