Israel’s ruling coalition on brink of collapse after lawmaker quits

A member of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing party said Monday he was “no longer part” of the government, bringing fragile governing coalition closer to collapse as it marks one year in office.

Nir Orbach, a lawmaker with the religious-nationalist Yemina party, is the latest member of the ruling alliance to abandon support in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The development came as Bennett’s ideologically diverse coalition, which includes the far-right, liberal and Arab parties, has staggered ever closer to implosion, a year after it ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule.

A trickle of defections and rebellions in recent weeks has left a coalition of eight divergent parties without a clear majority to pass legislation, raising questions about how long it can survive.

“I have informed the prime minister that based on the current situation, I am no longer part of the coalition,” Orbach said in a statement published by several Israeli media outlets.

No comment was immediately available from Orbach, whose statement said “extremist and anti-Zionist” members of parliament had taken the coalition “in problematic directions.”

His statement said he wanted to avoid another election and he would not vote to dissolve parliament, although his departure left Bennett’s coalition two short of a majority, with 59 seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament).

The embattled coalition can remain in power until most lawmakers vote to dissolve parliament or appoint a different prime minister. Neither scenario appears imminent.

Netanyahu, now leader of the opposition and vowing a comeback although he is on trial for alleged corruption, said the government was holding “one of the longest funerals in history.”

Following weeks of bickering between the partners, the clearest sign of the coalition’s weakness came last week when a bill extending Israeli civil law rights to settlers in the occupied West Bank was defeated in parliament.

The defeat has brought closer the prospect of the fifth election in three years, although the bill is likely to be returned to the Knesset (parliament) for a second attempt before the end of the month.

The settlers’ law, which would normally enjoy broad support in parliament and has been repeatedly renewed over the past five decades, fell victim to the increasingly bitter climate between the government and opposition.

“You are not fighting for our country but for your own seat,” Netanyahu told Bennett, once one of his closest aides, during a debate in parliament.

Bennett, a former commando and tech millionaire who launched into national politics in 2013, said his government had boosted economic growth, cut unemployment and eliminated the deficit for the first time in 14 years.

“We are fighting for the government these days,” he told the Knesset. “We are fighting because the choice is between chaos and stability.”

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