At the first session of the Knesset Arrangements Committee last night, committee chairperson Miki Zohar (Likud) said, "We realize that we're on the way to opposition. The Leader of the Opposition will be Benjamin Netanyahu." Was this a threat against Likud's right-wing partners, particularly against Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich, to induce him to remove his ban on forming a coalition supported by Ra'am (United Arab List), led by Mansour Abbas, or a prediction that Zohar's Likud colleagues share? This morning, Netanyahu has 14 days left in which to try to form a government, and Zohar's comment accurately reflects the current situation on the ground.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has been holding constant coalition talks with Netanyahu, but has consistently said that first of all Smotrich has to agree to a government with Ra'am. Unless Netanyahu can engineer a breakthrough on the Smotrich-Abbas front, he has no government, and Bennett will not join a block that is about to find itself in opposition. As far as Yamina is concerned, it will negotiate with Netanyahu on the formation of a government with Likud, but if this fails, it will form a different government, after having promised that there will not be another election.
For his part, Netanyahu is doing almost nothing about Smotrich, perhaps because he has reached the conclusion that he cannot change Smotrich's mind. Yesterday, a group of rabbis wrote to Smotrich supporting his stance against a coalition with Ra'am, and so Netanyahu, who in the past relied on religious Zionist rabbis to pressure their political representatives, is left without this lever against the six Knesset members belonging to the Religious Zionist party.
At present, there is no way through for Netanyahu on the Gideon Sa'ar front either. The New Hope party leader again made clear yesterday that the alternatives are either a right-wing government not headed by Netanyahu, or a coalition with Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, and his partners.
Netanyahu loses control of the Knesset
In the midst of his efforts to form a government, from last night Netanyahu started to lose his grip on the Knesset. In the plenum vote on the make-up of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, in which each side strove to achieve a majority, the Likud's proposal was defeated when the Ra'am members, who had been absent from the plenum, returned at the last minute and voted against it. Likud's party managers thought they had Mansour Abbas's support, but he revealed a deal between Likud and Yamina in which Bennett would receive an additional representative on the committee, and decided to reverse his vote. "I will not be taken for granted," he said. Ra'am instead supported a Yesh Atid-sponsored motion on the Arrangements Committee's make-up, Yamina left the plenum, and the motion passed by 60 votes to 51.
Particularly during the period of a transition government, the Arrangements Committee is key to controlling the legislature, as it is responsible for forming the other Knesset committees, and can neutralize the influence of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a close associate of Netanyahu, and could even replace him.
Last night's vote was a defeat for Likud. Yesh Atid claimed that it had secured a secret deal with Abbas, but other Knesset members said the result of the vote was a matter of luck: Abbas heard about the LIkud deal with Yamina, and decided to change sides because he was not offered the same terms.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 20, 2021
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