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Israel: Coalition on the verge of collapse 

Israel

Image Source: ABC News

After a tense Knesset confrontation over legislation that would extend legal protections to settlers in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s coalition government is on the verge of collapsing.

The first reading of a bill reinstating civilian legal rights for Jewish settlers in the West Bank failed to pass on Monday night, prompting descriptions from Israeli media such as “one of the most absurd votes in Israeli history” and “political suicide.”

Members of the Knesset had to decide whether strengthening or weakening the ideologically varied alliance, which had lately lost its razor-thin majority, was more crucial.

Opponents of the law were persuaded to vote in favor, fearing that if it did not pass, the coalition that removed long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just over a year ago would be thrown out. Meanwhile, despite their support for settlement building, right-wing opposition members voted no, resulting in a 58-52 defeat for the bill.

In her Knesset office on Tuesday, Naama Lazimi, a rookie member of the Knesset (MK) for the government’s center-left Labor party, described how unstable the government is at the moment while reiterating her commitment to her mission “to uphold the law rather than destabilize the administration.

The proponent of a two-state solution claimed she could have voted no in different circumstances. “However, only the most fortunate can refuse to support this regime. This government is pitted against the far right, neoliberals, and [religious] forces. We must provide this administration time to accomplish its goals.”

Emergency regulations, which have been in existence since the occupation of Palestinian territories began in 1967 and are renewed every five years by the Knesset, have created two legal systems in the West Bank, where not less than 500,000 Jewish settlers live in violation of international law but have Israeli citizenship. For decades, the 3 million Palestinians living in the same territory have been subject to Israeli military rule, a condition described as apartheid by three prominent human rights organizations.

Suppose the legislation is not renewed or a modified version is not passed by the end of June. In that case, Israeli settlers will be subject to military rule, which could destabilize the tax and policing systems for Israelis in the West Bank, raise questions about the status of Palestinian inmates held in Israeli jails, and almost certainly lead to the government’s collapse.

The eight-party governing coalition, which was sworn in a year ago, includes leftists who oppose settlement construction, rightwingers like Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who previously chaired a settler advocacy group, and, for the first time, members of an Arab party.

Initially brought together by a desire to oust Netanyahu and end years of parliamentary gridlock, a deal to retain the “status quo” by focusing on areas of common ground has been tough to achieve in practice.

Israelis wonder how long a coalition torn by divides will continue as it lurches from crisis to crisis, many of which have been sparked by the right-wing opposition, led by Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is determined to vote against every bill in order to bring down the government.

New Hope, a coalition partner, has previously threatened to pull out if the government fails to pass settlement legislation in the West Bank.

If New Hope exits, it may provide the opposition with the votes it needs to call new elections or form a new government, perhaps paving the way for Netanyahu to return to power despite the corruption allegations.

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