JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament has barred a breakaway member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party from running for reelection with any political faction, a small political victory for the premier as he seeks to stabilize the fragile government and a warning to any other rebel lawmakers .
The Knesset committee voted 7-0 on Monday to take action against lawmaker Amichai Chikli, declaring him a “defector.” Chikli said he would challenge the move in court. Israeli media reported that Bennett had requested the vote.
Chikli broke away from Bennett’s Yamina party almost immediately after the coalition was formed, and has been seen as a likely candidate for the opposition Likud party in the future. The vote prevents him from doing that during this session of the Knesset. It is also a warning to Idit Silman, who resigned from Bennett’s party earlier this month, and any other potential political rebels in the parliament.
Silman’s exit deprived the eight-party coalition of its 61-seat majority, less than a year after it was sworn in. That raised the prospect of a new national election at a time of rising tensions with the Palestinians.
The eight-party alliance, made up of ultranationalists, dovish parties and a small Islamist faction, is now deadlocked with the opposition with 60 seats each in the 120-member Knesset. That has greatly complicated the government’s ability to pass legislation and raised the risk of plunging the country into snap elections.
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, Israel’s transportation minister, said Monday that all party chiefs are working together to find a way to preserve the government.
Local media reported that Chikli may form new party. He rankled the coalition last year, when he voted with the opposition against renewing a law that kept Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It was a major setback for Bennett that cast doubt on the future of the coalition.
“Israel needs a functioning Zionist government, and not a mismatched patchwork that is reliant on” the votes of Arab lawmakers, Chikli said at the time.
Bennett’s unwieldy coalition also faces other challenges. Ongoing unrest surrounding a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, has prompted the small Islamist party Ra’am — the first Arab party to serve in an Israeli coalition — to temporarily suspend its participation in protest.