As Knesset’s summer session begins, uncertainty clouds coalition’s future

With parliament on the brink, nearly any lawmaker could push Israel to early elections.

By Yehuda Shlezinger, Ariel Kahana and Amir Ettinger, Israel Hayom via JNS.org

Israel’s Knesset on Monday embarked on its summer session, ending a politically charged recess marked by turmoil in the ruling party, as Yamina Knesset member Idit Silman stepped down as coalition chair and MK Amichai Chikli was ousted from the party’s ranks.

The political situation was further rattled by the wave of terror attacks that began in early March, so far claiming the lives of 17 Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have been working to stabilize the coalition, but while they present a unified front publicly, behind the scenes a clear political conflict of interest is emerging that may affect the entire political picture.

With a concrete threat of early elections looming, mostly over the fact that the Ra’am Party appears to be ready to bolt the coalition at any moment, the question of who will serve as prime minister in a transitional government is taking center stage.

While according to the power-sharing agreement between Bennett and Lapid the latter is slated to assume the premiership in August 2023, snap elections could prevent that. The coalition agreement states that two MKs from the “Bennett bloc”—comprising Yamina and New Hope—have to vote in favor of the Knesset’s dissolution for Lapid to become the transitional prime minister.

However, if the coalition falls over Ra’am’s exit, Bennett will remain in office, giving him the inherent advantage of being the incumbent during an election campaign.

Another question is, what will Defense Minister Benny Gantz do? Blue and White’s leader has remained something of an outsider in the coalition and sees himself as deserving of the prime minister’s seat.

During the previous government, Gantz struck a power-sharing deal with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but as the government dissolved in under a year, the deal never came to fruition.

Gantz has told associates that he views Netanyahu as “harmful to Israel” and would prefer not to allow him to be reelected.

Snap election or alternative coalition?

Over in the Likud, the party is reportedly conflicted on whether to trigger a snap election or try to form an alternative coalition during the current Knesset term.

Netanyahu would prefer the latter, while MK Yariv Levin argues that the former would be best.

The formation of a government in the current Knesset has particularly low chances. This move would require the opposition to win a constructive no-confidence vote, to which its members would have to show up with a fully-formed replacement government ready to be installed.

Netanyahu currently lacks the necessary majority in the opposition to push the move, mostly over the Joint Arab List’s objections.

In terms of a transitional government, Likud would prefer to see Lapid as the prime minister during the election campaign. Yesh Atid’s leader is something of a “red flag” for many Likud and right-wing voters, and could drive up turnout at the polls in favor of the right-wing bloc, the party believes.

Will Biden visit Israel?

Meanwhile, political sources noted on Sunday that political instability and particularly elections could see U.S. President Joe Biden postpone his visit to Israel, currently slated to take place in June.

The visit is expected to take place around the same time as the G7 summit, set to begin on June 26. The American president is expected to visit Israel either just before or just after the summit.

The U.S. delegation involved in preparations for the visit completed its meetings in Israel over the weekend and returned to Washington without setting a final date for Biden’s arrival.

Talks between Jerusalem and D.C. officials over the visit are ongoing, but elections could bring them to a halt. U.S. leaders traditionally refrain from visiting countries during elections so as not to appear as endorsing any of the parties vying for votes.