Bennett struggles to deal with mounting political and security crises

An ambulance arrived at the scene of a shooting in Tel Aviv (Anadolu Agency)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  April 8, 2022

Just as the prime minister was absorbing the shock of the coalition whip exit, another MP threatened to abandon the alliance and two Israelis were killed in Tel Aviv.

Political and security concerns

The government of Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has faced one of its most challenging weeks in office as both political and security issues mount.

Israel closed roads in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday and increased the police presence in the city following a shooting in Tel Aviv last night.

Thirteen Israelis have been killed in the past 16 days in shooting and stabbing attacks carried out by Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and inside Israel. 

Bennett, struggling to dampen a crisis within his Yamina party that threatens his government with collapse, asked the army to close a checkpoint near Jenin on Friday.

Ra’ad Hazem, a 29-year-old Palestinian who killed two Israelis on Thursday night in Tel Aviv, is from the Jenin refugee camp. He was later killed in a fire exchange with Israeli forces on Friday morning.

Haaretz reported that Israeli police are being careful not to use excessive forces in Jerusalem during Ramadan, though several Palestinians were attacked and arrested by military police around the Damascus Gate plaza last week.

“We will not allow violence and rioting in any form and will act against criminals, whoever they are,” the Israeli police said on Friday.

Yet Bennett’s government finds itself in a precarious situation following the defection of the coalition whip this week.

According to Haaretz, “Bennett’s situation is further complicated by the dual movement of encroaching political and security concerns”.

“On top of the most serious security crisis in a year, the Bennett-Lapid government is facing its most serious political challenge yet,” wrote Amos Harel, an Israeli political analyst.

Yair Lapid silence

While Bennett calls for support after losing the majority in the Knesset this week, Yair Lapid, the foreign minister, has been quiet.

In June, Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, joined the Israeli coalition of 61 MPs in an agreement that would allow Bennett to head it for the first 25 months, after which Lapid will assume the post for the rest of the premier’s tenure.

This week, Idit Silman, the government’s ruling coalition chairwoman, quit leaving Bennett’s coalition with 60 MPs in parliament, or Knesset, the same number as the opposition.

Israel Hayom said that Bennett asked his government ministers on Wednesday to comment publicly on the stability of his coalition, following the blow from Silman.

He received support from Defence Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and other ministers who tweeted their backing for the coalition, except for Lapid, who remained silent.

Lapid’s tweets were focused on his meetings with ambassadors and holding phone calls with foreign officials. 

Another minister who kept a low profile and remained quiet is Gideon Saar, the head of New Hope, who defected from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in December.

According to Israeli Hayom, Lapid’s interest lies in the collapse of the government as this will make him an interim prime minister until an election is called in Israel.

It is enough for two MP from left and right parties to quit or vote against Bennett for his government to fall.

Yamina MPs rebel

Just as Bennett was absorbing the shock of Silman’s withdrawal from the coalition, another MP from the Yamina party, Nir Orbach, threatened to abandon the alliance.

Orbach presented Bennett with three demands on Thursday if the prime minister wanted him to remain in the coalition, according to Ynet.

The demands were to approve almost 4,000 housing units for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and connect illegal Jewish settler outposts to the power grid. The third was calling off a government plan to cancel daycare subsidies for students in religious schools, or Yeshiva. 

“Without a solution to these issues, I can’t stay in the coalition,” Orbach said. 

Silman’s defection on Wednesday came after she lashed out at Health Minister Horowitz, who instructed hospitals to allow leavened bread products into their facilities during the upcoming Passover holiday, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling reversing years of prohibition.

Under Jewish tradition, leavened bread is not allowed in the public domain during Passover.

However, Israeli analysts said that Silman, and potentially Orbach, made their decisions in return for a place in a government that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could form if Bennett’s coalition collapses and Israel goes into a national election.

The plan to abolish the daycare subsidies for families of religious students was put forward by Avigdor Lieberman, the finance minister and a staunch secularist, but had faced difficulties winning a government vote.

Silman and Orbach are members of the Yamina party, which has seven MPs in the Knesset, headed by Bennett. Abir Kara is another Yamina MP who could potentially jump ship from Bennett to the opposition aisle.

On Thursday, Yamina called a party meeting to label Amichai Chikli, who refused to join the coalition, in June as a “defector”, sending a message to its members to stay in line.