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Latest bill exposes ongoing coalition fragility

What’s happened: The coalition once again was forced to remove a bill from the Knesset’s agenda as it did not have the requisite support from within the coalition.

  • The bill relates to ‘civil law’, a temporary order that has until now been approved every five years since 1967, to regulate civilian law on Israelis living in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
  • The United Arab List, plus MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from Meretz, have so far refused to support the bill.
  • Gideon Saar, the Justice Minister, warned yesterday: “If not for this bill, security prisoners in Israeli jails will have to be held in military prisons in Judea and Samaria. The police will not be authorised to investigate crimes that were committed in Israel, in Judea and Samaria. This will turn the settlements in Judea and Samaria into asylum cities.”
  • Saar went further, adding: “The vote on the bill will decide whether the coalition wants to continue to exist or not.”

Behind the scenes: According to a Yediot Ahronot report this morning, Saar has been holding talks with the Likud about the possibility of forming a different government without dissolving the Knesset and without holding elections.

  • The paper speculates that if New Hope were to support Netanyahu forming an alternative government, Gideon Saar would be appointed foreign minister. This could also satisfy a long-term Likud demand of returning the Justice Ministry to the Likud.

Other items on the agenda: Today the Likud are expected to introduce a bill to forbid raising the Palestinian flag in institutions that receive state funding, such as universities.

  • The issue was raised after recent demonstrations at both Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University, marking the Nakba (Disaster) of 1948. Hundreds of Arab and Bedouin students chanted against the State of Israel and raised Palestinian flags.
  • That bill is expected to pass, as the coalition will allow MKs the freedom to vote their conscience. Both Yamina and New Hope support the bill.
  • Another bill being sponsored by New Hope will recognise the status of ‘bereaved siblings’ for the first time. This relates to siblings of fallen IDF soldiers or terror victims being given a similar status as parents and children.
  • The opposition has vowed to oppose all government bills, but as Netanyahu himself is a bereaved brother, the opposition may in turn permit freedom of voting.

Context: There is growing resentment within the coalition that parties are not displaying coalition discipline. There is great difficulty backing government bills that they oppose ideologically.

  • These latest bills highlight the challenge the coalition is confronting in managing such a diverse range of opinions.
  • This appears to be the first time Saar is explicitly blaming coalition partners for failing to advance legislation.
  • Saar spent most of his political career in the Likud. He left the party in opposition to Netanyahu’s continued leadership whilst facing a criminal trial. He had previously competed and lost to Netanyahu in a Likud leadership primary.
  • In December 2020 he formed the New Hope Party that included other former Likud figures including Zeev Elkin, who had previously been thought of as one of Netanyahu’s most loyal and trusted ally.
  • The New Hope Party are against new elections partly due to recent polling that  gives them only four seats, placing it on the brink of the electoral threshold.
  • The bereaved siblings bill presents a dilemma for the Likud. Though they support the content of the bill, they have been adamant not to support any government sponsored bill, in order to prove it cannot govern.
  • The civil law bill is will also be a test for Idit Silman, who may be forced for the first time to vote against the government and to risk being declared a renegade MK by Yamina.
  • Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who briefly left and returned to the coalition last week, is focused on accelerating the funding for education, infrastructure for Arab communities. This will be put in jeopardy if the government collapses.
  • Earlier in the week Prime Minister Bennett successfully defused another disgruntled member of the coalition, Blue and White MK Michael Biton, who was protesting the increased cost of public transportation in the periphery.

Looking ahead: The bill on temporary legal jurisdiction over Israelis living in the West Bank must pass all three readings by the end of June.

  • The coalition continues to face the threat of the opposition introducing a bill to disband the Knesset or vote for an alternative government. If the Likud can persuade New Hope to back an alternative prime minister, a new government could be formed to avoid new elections.

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