Government in limbo

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Just when we were starting to get comfortable about the prospects for Israel’s politically diverse and razor-thin majority coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the expected happened: The delicate balance collapsed. Yamina MK Idit Silman announced that she was resigning from the coalition, leaving the Bennett-Lapid team without majority control. Speculation about next steps has been dizzying.

While Silman’s defection to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party could inaugurate a race to the exits from others in the coalition — and there seem to be several leaning in that direction — there are those who believe that such a move is less likely since the remaining coalition members and their parties could conclude that they have more to lose by leaving than by staying.

In order to bring down the current government and replace it with another, at least 61 MKs must vote to dissolve the government and go to new elections. Or a majority could vote to replace the government with another governing coalition (without an election). The Knesset is in recess until next month, so it will be several weeks before lawmakers can act. And no one knows which way things will go.

All eyes seem to be focused on Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, who stands to gain advantage if the government falls. But Netanyahu needs the support of at least 61 Knesset members — something he was not able to do with this same group of MKs in the past — in order to return to the Prime Minister’s office.

And there is an added complication. If the Knesset is dissolved, the current agreement stipulates that centrist Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would automatically become prime minister until a new government is sworn in. That would give him and his Yesh Atid party the power of incumbency going into the elections and in forming any new government.

If Netanyahu wants to replace the Bennett-Lapid government without an election, speculation focuses on his need to cut a deal with Defense Minister Benny Gantz (and his eight-member Blue and White party) whereby Gantz would become the next prime minister, to be followed by Netanyahu in some agreed rotation arrangement. But Gantz’s previous deal with Netanyahu didn’t end well, and he’s not likely to agree to any Netanyahu promises without some ironclad assurances.

Which leads to the possibility that continuing political gridlock will enable the existing government to continue in place for the next year, until March 2023, when a state budget must be passed, or new elections will be triggered by law.

Nothing about these developments is unexpected. Indeed, it is surprising that the Bennett-Lapid coalition government was able to stay together for the past nine months. Yet, we found comfort in the careful compromises that were being pursued and the hope for political stability going forward. Perhaps some further compromise or accommodation can be negotiated. If not, we will be back in the messy mix of political chaos.

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