Israel’s ruling coalition suffered a severe blow Monday night after failing to pass a bill on rules governing Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a vote that has become a critical test of the government’s viability.
The defeat came two months after the government lost its parliamentary majority and deepened the uncertainty about how long the coalition, which spans the entire political spectrum, can stay in power.
The government, which includes both Jewish nationalists and, for the first time in Israeli political history, the Islamist Arab Party, was formed a year ago by eight parties united mainly by the desire to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuwhich dominated the country’s politics for a decade.
Given the deep differences among its members, the coalition tried to put aside contentious issues relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead focus their energy on other topics.
But analysts say the tensions are over Israeli-Palestinian relations repeatedly provoked crises within the ruling camp. “Israel controls the Palestinians. But conflict and occupation are also controlled by Israel, ”said Dahlia Scheindlin, a political adviser and interviewer. “Even if we think we can ignore it, we can’t.”
The “emergency” laws being debated on Monday applied parts of Israeli law to about 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians are subject to military laws.
In force since 1967, laws are renewed every five years. The latest five-year period expires at the end of the month, and if the laws are not renewed before that, they will expire.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said not extending the emergency law would cause “chaos”. His nationalist party, New Hope, has hinted in recent days that it could leave the government if the law is not extended.
“Any coalition member who does not support such a fundamental law is actively working to break up the coalition,” Sa’ar said before the vote.
However, as a sign of significant divisions within the coalition, two of its deputies voted against the law, while several others were absent.
With the government controlling only 60 of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, that was enough to defeat the coalition, as nationalist opposition MPs led by Netanyahu’s Likud party put aside their traditional support for the settlers and voted en masse against the law in an attempt to torpedo government agenda.
Israeli governments can be overthrown if opposition parties gather a majority in favor of either another government or the dissolution of parliament.
Scheindlin said the vote did not mean any of those options would happen automatically, and warned that despite the coalition’s weakness, Netanyahu would still have to win over several defectors to form his own government without new elections.
“[Losing Monday’s vote] it is not just symbolic. It’s a serious blow. . . “It can easily lead to a series of events in which the party either formally leaves the coalition or votes to dissolve the Knesset,” she said. “But they also managed to get through. That is still an option. “