Analysis: The incumbent government is mostly not interested in yet another election and hopes to bridge a myriad of conflicting interests before it’s too late; Ynet offers a rundown of the key actors in this political imbroglio and what they stand to gain or lose if the tottering coalition collapses
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Dana Kopel, Kobi Koanks, Avigail Uzi, Niv Mussman, GPO, AFP)
Coalition whip Idit Silman’s defection from the government to the opposition on Wednesday shook the foundations of Israel’s already rickety coalition government, which is comprised of eight factions with disparate world views.
Coalition party leaders scrambled throughout the day to examine what viable options the near future holds for them — from a fresh election in the coming months to the formation of another government within the framework of the current Knesset.
With Silman’s departure, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s tiny Yamina party, which won seven seats in last year’s election, continues to hemorrhage support and shrank to just five representatives in Israel’s 120-seat legislature after she joined MK Amichai Chikli’s mutiny.
This also erases the coalition’s hair-thin majority in Knesset, which now has only 60 lawmakers. Now the opposition is lying in wait for another defector that would allow it to initiate a vote of no confidence and topple the sitting government.
Most members of the incumbent government are not interested in an early election — which will be Israel’s fifth since April 2019 — and hope to resolve the crisis in a creative fashion before the opening of parliament’s summer session in May. At the same time, each actor holds their own set of conflicting interests.
Against the background of Silman’s bombshell, Ynet offers a quick rundown of the key actors in this political imbroglio and their interests.
One of the most spoken about figures right now is undoubtedly Yesh Atid Chairman, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — the true tragic hero of the current government.
Lapid, who heads the coalition’s largest faction, has agreed to forfeit his precedence, and play second fiddle in a power-sharing deal with Bennett just so that the government could see the light of day.
The fact that the current Knesset could dissolve before realizing his grand political masterplan — which was supposed to position him as the head of a large electoral bloc, prime minister and significant statesman — is very bad news for him.
This also begs the question of whether he will agree to head a lame-duck caretaker government as the power-sharing agreement on the base of which the coalition was founded stipulates that if the Knesset dissolves by virtue of a move by the coalition’s right flank, Lapid would automatically become a caretaker prime minister during the election period.
However, some in his Yesh Atid party think such a move would only serve to ridicule him, and that he should reconsider accepting such a “promotion.”
The second most interesting figure in the near future will definitely be Defense Minister and Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz.
His entire journey with the incumbent government was shrouded with a miasma of sourness after losing his own chance to serve as prime minister with the collapse of the former government, where he served as alternate prime minister.
He stands to gain big from a new round of elections, provided he is not perceived by the public as the one responsible for the collapse of the sitting government.
If Yamina does the work for him and dissolves the government before Lapid assumes Israeli politics’ top position, Gantz will be able to supplant him as the leader of the center-left bloc and carry off some of his voters on his path back to the political forefront.
Publicly, Gantz has stated time and time again he intends to “preserve” the current government. Wednesday night, hours after the outset of this political mess, he said that he had talked to Bennett and that his Blue & White faction wanted “the existence and success of the government.”
In a hinted jab at Yamina’s disintegration, Gantz added that “Blue & White has been and will continue to be the most disciplined and significant faction in the coalition.”
Another significant actor in the political game is Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
From the moment the government was formed, Netanyahu worked tirelessly to promote another election campaign, with the thought that the fact that the current government was formed with the support of Ra’am Chairman Mansour Abbas would rally the Likud voters who did not go to the polls last time.
In the not-too-distant past, Netanyahu agreed to give Gantz the premiership in exchange for defecting from the coalition, but now that its foundations have been shaken, it seems much less likely now that Netanyahu would agree to give up the top seat to his erstwhile lieutenant.
Netanyahu is now trying to snatch more “defectors” from the government’s right flank, especially from Bennett’s Yamina, which he accuses of “stealing” votes from the right and using them to form a “dangerous left-wing government.”
In a demonstration Wednesday night in Jerusalem, Netanyahu called on “everyone who was elected by the votes of the right” to join Silman, and promised that they would be welcomed with open arms.
“If you have a conscience and a heart, come home,” Netanyahu said, speaking behind bullet-proof glass.
“Tonight is the time for unity, it is time to come back home and put aside old grudges and return to the nationalist bloc. Our door is open to anyone elected by the votes of the right and wants to steer the State of Israel back to the winning path. Our unity comes to serve all Israeli citizens — Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is considered the big loser of this political earthquake. His tenure could be cut short before he managed to complete any significant political and diplomatic moves.
Bennett and his Yamina party have yet to improve their standing in the polls as they might have hoped would happen had they achieved any of the goals they set for themselves.
Therefore, any changes in the composition of the coalition at this time do not auger well for Bennett. In any reasonable scenario, Yamina will soon have to try and merge with other smaller players on the right since there is currently no justification for a large number of small parties on the right of the Likud.
Bennett himself stated that he will work to stabilize Yamina and the current coalition.
“I spoke to all other [coalition] party leaders — everyone wants to keep this government going. This government works for the citizens of the country. There is 8% [annual economic] growth, we have stopped the flow of cash to Hamas, we are waging a campaign against the Iranian threat, and fight crime in the Arab sector,” he said in this first public statement after speaking with his fellow Yamina lawmakers following Silman’s departure.
His peers in Yamina — Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and MKs Nir Orbach and Abir Kara — hurled harsh words at him, arguing, among other things, that he focused too much on his mediation efforts in the Russo-Ukrainian instead of focusing on “their wars in the Knesset.”
However, a Yamina source that was present at the meeting said that he felt that “the bleeding has stopped, and despite Orbach and Kara’s poignant remarks to Bennett, they do not seem to be going in Silman’s footsteps, or any other dramatic move soon.”