The defection of a key lawmaker has left PM Naftali Bennett’s government holding fewer than half of parliamentary seats.
Israel may be headed for its fifth election in three years as the ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shows signs of unraveling and losing its grip on power.
Longtime Bennett ally Nir Orbach announced on Monday that he has left the ruling legislative bloc, saying it was being held hostage by “extremist, anti-Zionist elements,” such as United Arab List (Ra’am) party member Mazen Ghanaim and left-wing Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi. Orbach’s move left Bennett’s diverse coalition with just 59 seats in the 120-member Knesset, two seats short of a majority.
Addressing the Knesset on Monday, Bennett acknowledged that his government may collapse within “a week or two” unless defectors rejoin the fold. Orbach became the third member of Bennett’s conservative Yamina party to quit the ruling bloc.
“One after another, they’re abandoning the sinking ship,” former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his successor. “Your government of extortion and protection is falling apart.”
The shakeup came exactly one year after Bennett swept to power by forming Israel’s most diverse coalition government in history. He brought together parties from across the political spectrum, including conservatives, leftists, and Arabs.
The group’s tenuous grip on power was evidenced by the failure last week to pass a bill that would extend Israeli legal rights to settlers in the occupied West Bank. Ghanaim and Zoabi were among the lawmakers who voted against the bill.
Netanyahu, who ruled for a record 12 years, seeks to return to power despite facing corruption charges. His Likud party holds the largest number of Knesset seats – over four times as many as Yamina, in fact – but it’s unlikely to win an outright majority in the next election, and lawmakers from other parties are reportedly reluctant to join Netanyahu in a new ruling coalition. Likud currently controls 29 seats in parliament.