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Monday Jun 07 2021
By
AFP

Israel braces for political suspense as Parliament speaker denies anti-Netanyahu bloc confidence vote

By
AFP
A general view of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on June 7, 2021. Photo: AFP

  • Israeli parliament speaker Yariv Levin says a confidence vote session would be held by June 14.
  • If Israel's legislature approves new coalition then it could spell the end of the rule of veteran Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • The anti-Netanyahu bloc includes three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.


JERUSALEM: Israeli parliament speaker denied anti-Benjamin Netanyahu alliance a vote to oust him to end the 12-year-rule of the Likud party and telling lawmakers that the vote will be held next week. 

Politicians swapped bitter accusations of undermining the political process after Netanyahu accused his foes of "the greatest election fraud" in the history of democracy.

Speaking after security services issued a rare warning against incitement online, centrist Yair Lapid, said calls to "violence and incitement against Knesset members" are "against the very essence of the democratic process".

The architect of the fragile eight-party alliance seeking to oust Netanyahu added that "the past few days proved how much we need change".

Read more: Israel's Netanyahu denies 'incitement' amid rising political tensions

But Lapid, a former television presenter, vowed that "this government will be formed".

"There's never anything 100% in Israeli politics, but this government has the best chance to make it happen," Lapid told journalists.

Members of the "change" coalition had hoped for a vote on Wednesday.

But in formally introducing the potential new government to the Knesset, speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud party member close to Netanyahu, simply said a confidence vote session would be held by June 14.

The political turmoil comes weeks after Israel's latest war in Gaza against Hamas, which saw heavy exchanges of rocket fire and air strikes.

Hamas on Monday threatened a renewed escalation over a planned right-wing Israeli march through flashpoint areas of annexed east Jerusalem on Thursday. But organisers then said they had cancelled the event after police refused to approve the route.

Read more: Arab party helps secure Israel's new anti-Netanyahu govt

If Israel's legislature, the Knesset, approves the new coalition, it could spell the end of the rule of the veteran nicknamed Bibi who has utterly dominated Israeli politics.

His right-wing rival Naftali Bennett, who has emerged as a kingmaker in the ideologically divided alliance, urged Netanyahu to "let go".

Netanyahu, 71, who faces corruption charges that could result in jail time, has doubled down on rhetoric aimed at torpedoing the nascent coalition.

In a passionate speech to his right-wing Likud party supporters on Sunday, he decried the "violent machine" aligned against him and urged them to protest against the "dangerous left-wing government" in the making.

Read more: Netanyahu’s days are numbered as Israeli Opposition moves to unseat him

Bennett later warned him: "Don't leave scorched earth in your wake."

'Violent discourse'

The anti-Netanyahu bloc includes three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.

Bennett — who would serve as Israel's premier for the next two years under the "change" coalition deal, before Lapid takes over — appealed to the Knesset speaker to schedule a vote as early as Wednesday.

Netanyahu has been trying to thwart the coalition by peeling off right-wing defectors uncomfortable working with left-wing and Arab lawmakers.

Read more: Israel's opposition declares new government, set to unseat Netanyahu

Alarm has grown about angry rallies by Netanyahu supporters, including protests outside the homes of some Yamina lawmakers accusing them of "betrayal". Security has been stepped up for some of the MPs.

The chief of Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency, Nadav Argaman, at the weekend issued a rare public warning against a "severe escalation in violent and inciting discourse" online.

A Shin Bet spokesperson told AFP the message intended to dampen the "general atmosphere", but anti-Netanyahu politicians interpreted it as a warning to the prime minister.

'Red lines crossed'

Netanyahu dismissed the warning, saying "there is a very thin line between political criticism and inciting violence," but condemned incitement of any kind.

Yediot Aharonot, the country's most-read paper, said the "attempts to challenge and prevent the establishment of the new government have crossed every red line".

The political turmoil comes at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Israeli police clashed again Sunday with protesters angered by looming expulsions of Palestinian families in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood.

Parliament's security committee was to hold an emergency meeting Monday "in light of the unusual warning issued by the head of Shin Bet" as well as over calls in recent days from far-right figures for the march in east Jerusalem.

Read more: Benjamin Netanyahu's disparate rivals try to nail down pact to unseat him

Right-wing organisations had argued their planned Israeli flag march Thursday would be a routine demonstration of free expression, but many critics fear an escalation amid already bubbling tensions.

A top Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayya, on Monday, warned Israel "against letting the march approach east Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound".

"We hope the message is clear so that Thursday doesn't become (a new) May 10," he said, in reference to the start of the 11-day war which Hamas launched in response to the east Jerusalem tensions.

Israeli organisers said later Monday they had scrapped the rally after police had refused to authorise the route passing through east Jerusalem — though some politicians on the far right said they would march anyway.