Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid's coalition has been hit from an unexpected direction. In a surprise move, MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz announced today that she was quitting the governing coalition, thus joining Idit Silman of Yamina who made a similar move during the Knesset recess.
In the letter she sent to Bennett and Lapid, Rinawie Zoabi wrote: "The month of Ramadan was unbearable. The scenes we witnessed on the Temple Mount of violent policemen against a congregation of worshippers, and the funeral of the journalist Shereen Abu Akleh, have led me to just one personal, moral conclusion: I cannot continue to support the existence of a coalition that shamefully harasses the community from which I come. In the light of what I have stated, I notify you of the removal of my candidature for any future appointment and of the cessation of my membership of the coalition."
The coalition now has only 59 members of Knesset, which means that it is in a minority in the legislature. Does this mean that we will have elections, and if so, who will head the transitional government?
The government can continue in office as long as no law to dissolve the Knesset has passed. But as early as next week, the Likud party intends to bring a dissolution bill to a first reading. What is certain is that it will be much harder for the coalition to pass its own legislation, without a built-in majority or even tied forces. The assessment is that the coalition's days are numbered and that the government will find it hard to keep its members united in the current situation.
The coalition can declare MK Rinawie Zoabi a defector. Will that help it?
No. It might end her political career, but she will remain a member of the present Knesset and she can still bring down the government. The main sanction against a member of Knesset who has been declared a defector is that they cannot run for election to the next Knesset in any of the parties in the current Knesset.
The only ways of ending membership of the Knesset are that the member resigns, or is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.
Will there necessarily be an election?
Rinawie Zoabi's abandonment of the coalition does bring the Knesset closer to an election. In order to dissolve the Knesset and call an election, a majority of 61 members is required in three readings of a dissolution bill.
The other possibility is the formation of a different government in the current Knesset through a vote of no confidence. That, however, is a more complicated procedure. It requires 61 members of Knesset to agree on the make-up of an alternative government, and that will not be easy. The opposition consists of 52 members of right-wing parties, six members of the Joint Arab List, and the three renegades, Amichai Chikli, Idit Silman, and now Rinawie Zoabi. That is too disparate a group to succeed in agreeing on an alternative government, but it could agree on dissolving the Knesset.
If there's an election, when will it be?
As soon as a bill to dissolve the Knesset passes third reading and becomes law, the government has three months (90 days) until the election. The current Knesset session has ten more weeks to run, during which a dissolution bill can be passed. If that happens, the election will probably be held in September.
It is still too early to calculate when an election will be, as MK Rinawie Zoabi is not answering telephone calls, and it is not clear to the heads of coalition how she intends to behave in voting in the Knesset next week. She could act like the members of the Joint Arab List, who in the past two weeks have supported the government on an ad hoc basis.
Meretz is not giving up. Since Rinawie Zoabi has threatened a similar step in the past, the party hopes that this time too it will manage to appease her and bring her back into the coalition fold.
Assuming that the Knesset is dissolved, who will serve as interim prime minister?
Rinawie Zoabi's decision is very good news for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. If another Knesset member from his Yamina party or from the New Hope party were to join Idit Silman in voting to dissolve the Knesset, alternate prime minister Yair Lapid would become prime minister for the election period. Now, however, when it is a matter of a member from Yamina alongside a member from Meretz voting for dissolution, Bennett will remain securely in the Prime Minister's Bureau during the election campaign and until a new government is sworn in.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 19, 2022.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.