More tremors in the shaky coalition

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

Could Israel’s rightward-leaning parties — who have historically been the strongest advocates for the settler movement — find themselves in the position of causing Israelis who live in the West Bank to be under martial law? That actually might happen, as another politically challenging dilemma confronts the increasingly fragile Israeli governing coalition, which passed its one-year mark last week.

Since the Six Day War, the territory beyond the historic “Green Line” has been under Israeli military occupation. Israeli citizens who live in the area have lived under civil law by virtue of an “emergency measure,” which has not been extended to the area’s Palestinians, who remain subject to military law. The emergency regulation, which must be renewed every five years, is set to expire at the end of June.

The reason most of us have not heard about the “emergency measure” and its five-year renewal is because renewal is practically a given — or had been until this year. But now, with the government holding a 60-seat tie in the Knesset and the opposition committed to obstruction, it isn’t at all clear that the emergency measure can muster enough support.

The bill lost a crucial vote this past Monday. One partner in the coalition, the Islamist Ra’am party, cannot support a law that favors Jews in the territory and not fellow Palestinians. Without Ra’am, the number of Knesset members likely to support the legislation is down to 56. But some other coalition members abstained. And even though passage of the bill is unquestionably something favored by rightward-leaning parties who are joined with Likud leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset opposition, they have committed not to support any measure proposed by the governing coalition, as part of their effort to topple the current government and its leadership, and voted against it.

These political machinations could create real problems for the settler community — which represents a significant voter bloc for Netanyahu and his opposition team. Under the civilian control mandated by the “emergency measure,” Israel’s 600,000 citizens who live beyond the Green Line are tried in civilian courts and receive social and health benefits just like residents of Israel proper. They lose all that if they fall under military rule. Even a traffic ticket would have to be adjudicated by a military judge. Moreover, members of the Knesset who live in the West Bank will cease to be residents of Israel, a requirement for public service.

There are other dark clouds for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who seems to be paying the price for favoring pragmatism over ideology in leading his widely divergent eight-party coalition — most of whom are not his natural political allies. In fairly rapid succession, four members of Bennett’s inner circle — his chief of staff, senior foreign policy advisor, personal assistant and spokesperson — all announced their resignations, reportedly frustrated that they can’t budge their boss to the right. And, of course, there’s the continuing, unrelenting opposition efforts of Netanyahu and friends, who have been encouraged by the recent further weakening of the prosecution’s case against Netanyahu.

For now, Bennett is hanging on. But his grip is weakening.

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