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March 28, 2017 6:35 am

Israeli Knesset Enters Recess Amid Questions on Government’s Stability

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Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Photo: Itzik Edri via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – During the past two weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly sent signals that he might disband the current Likud-led government and call for early elections — largely due to the government’s plans to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with a new state-legislated entity, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Yet despite Netanyahu’s threats, members of Likud and the other coalition parties seem reluctant to disband the government, especially over an issue that many don’t see as critically important.

“Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and others in the Likud Party, as well as Defense Minister [and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party] Avigdor Lieberman, have said that there is no good reason to go to elections at this point,” said Mitchell Barak, director of KEEVOON Global Research, an Israeli research and strategic communications firm.

“Netanyahu already has his mandate,” Barak told JNS.org, “and there is no reason to go to elections over this issue. This is the last thing the country needs.”

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According to Hebrew media reports, leaders of the coalition’s religious parties — Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Knesset Finance Committee Chair Moshe Gafni (both of the United Torah Judaism Party), and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (of the Shas Party), issued a joint statement on Sunday that they “will not agree to advance [toward early elections], and … will have no hand in it.”

Netanyahu vs. the media

The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation was created by a Knesset law in 2015, but Netanyahu has been pushing to scrap the new entity just weeks before its impending launch, reportedly over fears that the new corporation will offer unflattering coverage of the prime minister.

Yet Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — a key Netanyahu coalition partner, and the leader of the Kulanu Party — has insisted on launching the new broadcasting entity, maintaining that it will save the government more than $25 million.

Although Netanyahu has reportedly threatened to disband the government if the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation is allowed to enter into existence, political analyst Jeremy Saltan — a former Knesset aide and a current member of the Jewish Home party’s Central Committee — believes that new elections are unlikely.

“There definitely is a little bit of disharmony within the coalition, but I would not call it an all-out coalition crisis. If you take a look at the exact wording that the prime minister and the finance minister have used, neither of them has directly said that we’re heading toward elections,” Saltan told JNS.org.

The current coalition is comprised primarily of nationalist and religious parties, and Saltan believes that it’s one of the most stable coalitions in years. According to recent polls, many coalition parties, including Likud, stand to lose several seats if early elections are called, potentially paving the way for a new prime minister and a left-leaning government.

“The prime minister has 30 seats — a quarter of parliament,” Saltan said. “It took Netanyahu six elections at the head of the Likud Party to get to that. Why would he throw that away when the polls suggest that, even if he were to maintain his current coalition following an election, he might not get to 30 seats again?”

Saltan suggests that two key factors — the passage of a two-year government budget and recent electoral reforms — contribute to the current coalition’s stability.

“The main way to topple a government is not to pass a state budget,” Saltan said. “The coalition just passed a biannual budget, which makes sure that the country and the parliament are relatively stable until the next time a new budget needs to be passed, which is 2019.”

In the past, Israeli governments have also been subject to frequent “no confidence” motions, which require elections if they are passed. Yet electoral reforms enacted in the most recent legislative term make such motions more difficult.

“Governments are much more stable now,” said Saltan. “It’s no longer enough to vote ‘no confidence’ in the government. You have to have a ‘constructive no-confidence motion’ in which you present an alternative candidate for prime minister, a list of cabinet ministers and an attached ‘confidence motion,’ in which at least 61 members of the Knesset agree to form a new government.”

“It’s pretty difficult to get 61 votes in [support] of an alternative government,” he added. “Anyone who thinks that the Knesset members are going to come out of their paid vacation to vote to disperse parliament — that would be a historic first.”

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