Likud pulls bill to dissolve Knesset after Ra’am gives coalition another chance

The Likud party on Wednesday pulled its bill to dissolve the Knesset after Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas announced that his party will return to the coalition and fulfill its related obligations.

With Ra’am’s four MKs, the coalition is back to a 60-60 seat parity with the Likud-led opposition, foiling the opposition’s bid to pass a preliminary reading on Wednesday of a bill to dissolve the Knesset and force elections. Had the opposition brought the measure and failed, it would have been unable to bring a similar bill to a vote again for six months.

“We’ve come to a conclusion that Ra’am, with the Shura Council and the Islamic Movement, will give a chance to come back and fulfill our obligations to the coalition agreement,” Abbas said, ending speculation about Ra’am’s plans following a three-week coalition timeout and a Tuesday night marathon meeting of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council, which guides the party.

Flanked by the three other members of his Knesset faction, Abbas said at a press conference that Ra’am does not want another election.

“We in Ra’am think it’s a mistake to go to an election cycle that will bring back Netanyahu and reverse all of the issues we’ve been working on,” Abbas said to journalists gathered outside the prime minister’s Knesset office.

In a statement released after Abbas’s announced return to the coalition, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party attacked both Abbas’s loyalty to the coalition and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s security record.

Opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

“What else did Bennett sell to Mansour Abbas for the survival of his weak and submissive government? What did Mansour Abbas hear last weekend in Turkey, where Hamas members are sitting? ” the statement read, referring to a vacation Abbas took last week in Turkey. “A government that depends on supporters of terrorism cannot fight terrorism, and it will soon fall.”

Right-wing members of the opposition often refer to Ra’am as “terror supporters.”

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) delivered similar criticism in person, storming into the middle of Abbas’s press conference and igniting a shouting match between himself and the four Ra’am members that lasted several minutes.

“This is not your home, it belongs to Jews!” Ben Gvir yelled.

“You’re the greatest danger to the State of Israel,” MK Walid Taha screamed in response.

MK Iman Khatib Yassin yelled for Ben Gvir to “go away,” which he did only as Knesset security dragged him out, yelling, “Terrorist!”

Ra’am has been polling poorly in the last week, not reaching the minimum threshold to enter Knesset. However, the larger issue Abbas faces is internal division within the party, exacerbated by several weeks of heightened tensions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir interrupts a press conference given by Ra’am party MK Mansour Abbas at the Knesset, May 11, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

Abbas made the unprecedented choice to bring the first Islamist and independent Arab party into an Israeli coalition, agreeing to set aside the Palestinian national cause in order to focus on civil gains for Arab Israeli society. His base grumbles that his method has yet to deliver results, and a split persists within Ra’am as to whether to give Abbas’s method more time to play out, or to cut losses and return to the opposition strategy advocated by the Knesset’s other Arab party , the Joint List.

This bifurcation in strategy has been felt on Ra’am’s Knesset stage, as well. Before standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the party’s other members at Wednesday’s press conference, MK Mazen Ghanaim gave several interviews over the past few weeks in which he said he would not feel obligated to the coalition if the Al-Aqsa issue were not resolved, and even pushed his party to quit the coalition entirely.

In line with a decision from its Shura Council, Ra’am announced a “freeze” in its coalition membership three weeks ago, over dissatisfaction with Israel’s handling of clashes between police and Palestinian protesters on Temple Mount.

Known to the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif, or the Al-Aqsa complex, to Muslims, Jerusalem’s most holy hilltop has been a crucible for violence in the weeks leading up to and during Ramadan, which coincided this year with Passover and Easter.

On Saturday, Abbas called for a resolution on the Al-Aqsa issue to take place via a joint Israeli-Jordanian committee, and said his party would follow the Jordanian crown’s demands. Jordan is the custodian of Temple Mount.

On Sunday, Bennett said that Israel would not outsource its Temple Mount policy to international decisionmakers.

Taha is set to lead discussions with the coalition regarding how to meet Ra’am’s demands, including on Al-Aqsa and economic and society initiatives within Arab society.

Ra’am’s announcement was expected earlier on Wednesday morning, but was delayed following the death of well-known Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Abu Akleh was killed Wednesday morning while covering a military operation in Jenin, under circumstances still in dispute.

Ra’am separately called for an international investigative panel into the events surrounding Abu Akleh’s death, which Abbas reiterated during his remarks at the Knesset.

Delivering a speech earlier in the day in response to Abu Akleh’s death and coalition members’ attendant condemnations – including Meretz MK Mossi Raz’s tweet that “this is what the occupation looks like” – Netanyahu tied coalition reactions to his claim that Ra’am imperils the government’s ability to fight terror.

“The false smears against our soldiers, smears heard from within the coalition, prove once again that a government that depends on terrorist supporters cannot fight terrorism,” the Likud leader said. Referring to ties between the Islamic Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, Netanyahu added that: “A government that depends on the Muslim Brotherhood’s council is incapable of protecting our citizens and protecting our soldiers.”

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