How a failed vote on Jewish settlers shows the Israeli government is teetering

A section of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, seen on Thursday, June 9.

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Jerusalem (CNN)Efforts by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies to bring down the country's governing coalition risk hurting the very cause the Israeli right has always championed: Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's coalition lost a critical vote this week in parliament to renew measures that govern legal rights for the settlers, another major dent in the government's armor, although not yet the fatal blow.
The defeat shows the fragility of Israel's ruling coalition and how parliamentary gridlock could bring issues of national importance to a complete halt.
    The right-wing prime minister leads a coalition of unlikely bedfellows from across the political spectrum, including the first Arab party to sit in an Israeli government. The coalition lost its razor-thin one-seat majority when a member of Bennett's own party decamped in April.
      This week's vote to renew an Israeli law covering settlers in the West Bank exposed all the fault lines in Bennett's coalition of unlikely allies.
      Because the law provides for Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be treated legally like Israelis, most left-wing and Arab members of Bennett's coalition oppose it in principle -- they are against the settlements.
      But in order to keep the Bennett government in power, most of them voted for the law anyway.
        And in a twist of politics, right-wing opposition parties including Netanyahu's Likud voted against it -- despite being ideological supporters of the settlers -- as part of an effort to hurt the coalition regardless of the cost.
        The opposition's political ploy could have far-reaching consequences beyond weakening Bennett.
        Monday's vote was to renew regulations that govern how Jewish settlers are treated in the West Bank under Israeli law. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, which considers the West Bank to be occupied territory. Israel rejects that, saying the status of the West Bank is more complicated than international law allows.
        Despite the controversy about the legal status of the settlements, for decades the regulations have been renewed on a regular basis with little fanfare by left- and right-wing governments.
        If the bill to renew the regulations isn't passed by the end of June, Jewish settlers could find themselves in legal limbo. But some settlers likely support these political maneuvers as a way to bring down the coalition government, even if it complicates their day-to-day lives.
        The bill can be brought back for a new vote every Monday and Wednesday until the end of the month. And while there may be short-term legal workarounds should the deadline pass, another scenario is that the government could dissolve before the end of June, which would automatically extend the regulations currently in place until after a new government is formed.
        But while the government is on shaky ground, its fall isn't inevitable. Netanyahu's opposition bloc still doesn't have the 61 votes needed to dissolve the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, but he's very close, and under some calculations needs to attract just one defector from Bennett's coalition.
        If Netanyahu does succeed in dissolving parliament it would trigger new elections, less than two years since the last vote.

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