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The Israeli Prime Minister’s government is limping into a new parliamentary session

JERUSALEM – The government of Israel’s embattled prime minister limped into the opening of the summer session of parliament on Monday, on the verge of collapse.

Less than a year after taking office, Naftali Bennett has lost his parliamentary majority, his own party is crumbling and a key government partner has stopped working with the coalition. This has set the stage for a possible attempt by the opposition, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to overthrow the government later this week.

While Bennett appears poised to stave off this immediate challenge, his longer-term prospects are uncertain at a time when the government is deeply divided over key issues, Israel is facing an ongoing spate of stabbings and shootings by Palestinian loners and assailants Confrontation with the United States over settlements in the West Bank looms.

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Boaz Toporovsky, the acting coalition leader, acknowledged the coalition was in the middle of a “serious crisis” but said he was optimistic it would survive. “Everyone understands that we are at a crossroads that, heaven forbid, can bring about elections in Israel,” he told Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

The new government made history when it took office last June, ending a prolonged impasse that saw the country endure four rounds of inconclusive elections in just two years. Racing to forestall another election, Bennett cobbled together a diverse coalition of eight parties that had little in common save their shared hostility to Netanyahu.

The new coalition, which includes hardline religious nationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood, peaceful leftists and, for the first time in an Israeli coalition, an Islamist Arab party, agreed to put aside the country’s most contentious issues and focus on areas of broad focus on consensus.

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The government has managed to pass a budget, deal with the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen ties with both the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies. Bennett has also emerged as a surprise mediator in the Ukraine-Russia war, speaking regularly to leaders of both countries.

Although Bennett, who heads a small religious nationalist party, has ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians, he has sought to ease tensions by taking action to improve living conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This cautious approach has been tested repeatedly. A member of Bennett’s Yamina party defected from government when he took office, accusing him of abandoning their nationalist ideology. A second member followed suit last month, leaving coalition and opposition divided equally in the 120-seat parliament.

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Weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence, fueled largely by tension and fighting at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, prompted Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Arab Ra’am faction in the coalition, to end cooperation. Abbas has not said whether he will resume cooperation or join the opposition in a bid to overthrow the coalition this week.

“We are in a not-so-simple crisis with Ra’am,” Toporovsky said, adding that he understands the Islamist party’s disappointment at the slow pace at which change is being brought about for Israel’s Arab citizens.

Netanyahu is considering moving to a motion to dissolve parliament and call new elections this week. Such a step is risky. It would require at least one of the remaining members of the coalition to join it, and there is no guarantee that will happen. If he fails, he might not make a similar request for the next six months as an ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu progresses.

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Yohanan Plesner, a former lawmaker who is now president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said he expects the coalition to weather the storm, at least in the short term.

He said even dissatisfied coalition members had much to lose if the country were plunged into new elections. Abbas, for example, is only just beginning to see the huge budgets he has secured to flow to the impoverished Arab communities he represents.

But any member of the coalition can now pressure the government to push pet projects rejected by other partners. This week, an Israeli planning committee is due to approve plans to build some 4,000 new houses in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite vocal opposition from the United States and most of the international community. The construction project is being driven by members of Bennett’s own party, which draws much of its support from the settler community.

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“In the next few days we will know whether the coalition is in a critical but stable state or in a critical but unstable state,” Plesner said. “The immediate areas to look at are either the Ra’am party as a whole or parts of it or elements within Yamina.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/2022/05/09/israeli-pms-government-limps-into-new-parliament-session/ The Israeli Prime Minister’s government is limping into a new parliamentary session

Joel McCord

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