Israel government loses key vote in setback for coalition

The rebellion calls into question the stability of the government led by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's government suffered a defeat at the hands of the opposition Monday which voted down a push to uphold Israeli law in settlements on the occupied West Bank, posing a challenge to the ruling coalition.

In force since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank the law, giving settlers in the West Bank the same rights as citizens in Israel, is automatically ratified by parliament every five years.

But two members of the broad coalition, a member of the Arab Raam party and a member of the leftist Meretz party, voted at first reading against the bill.

Their rebellion does not for the moment call into question the continuation of Israeli law in the West Bank, but rather the stability of the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The opposition, which had announced that it would vote against the bill simply to show its distrust of the government, gathered a total of 58 votes to 52 for the coalition.

The government recently lost its majority in the house, setting the stage for a showdown over the "Judea and Samaria Law", as Israel calls the occupied West Bank.

If is not passed on July 1, the more than 475,000 Israelis living there will no longer receive the same rights as other Israelis - including voting rights.

According to Israeli commentators, the right-wing opposition, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will not block the renewal of the pro-settlement measures.

Rather it will seek to weaken the government of Bennett, a leader who himself favours settlement expansion, by showing the coalition cannot pass the law.

"Bennett, go home. It's time to bring Israel back to the right," Netanyahu's Likud party responded in a brief post-vote message in Hebrew.

Israel's foreign policy chief Yair Lapid, the ruling coalition's co-leader, acknowledged a "defeat" for the government which he said would "come back stronger" to "win the next round."

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