JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s justice minister says he will give the government one final chance to approve a contentious bill extending legal protections to West Bank settlers in a last-ditch effort to keep the fractured coalition in power.
Justice Minister Gideon Saar said in a series of TV interviews that he will resubmit the bill next Sunday, after the legislation failed to pass earlier this week. Several members of the coalition joined the opposition in defeating the bill.
Saar called on his fellow coalition members to get in line or to exit the government — a scenario that would likely plunge the country into a fifth election in just three years.
“As long as they don’t make order in their own party, as far as we are concerned, they aren’t part of the coalition,” he told Israel's Kan public broadcaster late Tuesday.
The bill was seen as a major test for the coalition, comprised of parties from across the political spectrum, and its defeat has raised questions about the government's long-term viability.
Israeli media said that the renegade coalition lawmakers who didn't support the bill are being pressure to change their minds or resign to make way for those who would vote in favor.
Emergency regulations in place for decades have created a separate legal system for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. It applies parts of Israeli law to them — even though they live in occupied territory and not within sovereign Israeli land — while Palestinians live under military rule, now in its sixth decade.
If the bill fails to pass again, Jewish settlers living there could see their legal status thrown into question. Critics, including the Palestinians and three prominent human rights groups, have said the situation amounts to apartheid, an allegation Israel rejects as an assault on its legitimacy.
The coalition includes nationalistic parties that are strong supporters of the settlements, as well as dovish parties that oppose them. The alliance is the first in Israel's history to include an Arab party, the Islamist Ra'am, whose members abstained or opposed the bill on Monday.
Saar, who heads a small pro-settler party, directed much of his criticism at Ra'am. “From my perspective, Ra'am has not behaved like a party in the coalition and will pay a price for that,” he told Channel 13 TV.
There was no indication as to whether Ra'am's members would change how they voted. Another coalition member who voted against the bill, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, said Wednesday she remained opposed.
The coalition was formed a year ago, bringing together eight parties that have little in common beyond their shared animosity to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now the opposition leader. After a series of coalition defections, parliament is evenly divided 60-60 between the coalition and opposition.
In some ways, Monday's vote had less to do with the status of the settlers than with the status of the government. The opposition is dominated by allies of the settlers, yet voted against the legislation and the interests of their constituents in hopes of speeding up the collapse of the government. Dovish members of the government, meanwhile, voted in favor of the bill to shore up the coalition, despite their opposition to the settlements.
If the bill fails again next week, the government would not immediately collapse. But the fissures in the coalition will be difficult to mend and its days could be numbered.
“The government now would find it very difficult to manage the ongoing affairs of state, let alone instigate and initiate major reforms and so on,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an Israeli think tank. “In this respect, it’s a missing government, it’s a very problematic situation for the government.”
Emily Rose, The Associated Press