Israel’s coalition crisis deepens

What happened: Israel’s governing coalition became a minority government yesterday following the resignation of Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi.

  • Zoabi’s resignation even surprised her own party when she sent her resignation letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
  • She explained her predicament as a representative of the Arab community, whilst being part of a government during clashes on the Temple Mount, Sheikh Jarrah, settlements, house demolitions, the Citizenship Law and land confiscations in the Negev.
  • She told Channel 12 News last night that the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. She adding: “The Arab public is fed up with the behaviour of this government.”
  • Her party’s leader, Nitzan Horowitz wrote on twitter: “Our coalition is important and we are working to maintain it. The dissolution of the coalition will be a reward for Netanyahu and Ben Gvir, and great damage to society as a whole – Jews and Arabs. Meretz and I are committed to every effort to stabilise the government and ensure its continued existence. The disputes in the government will be resolved inside the house.”
  • Likud faction chairman Yariv Levin said the government has “lost its way now … lost its majority in the Knesset and no longer has the right to exist”.

 Context: Zoabi’s resignation gives the opposition a majority of 61 to 59 MKs. It leaves the government exposed to a vote to disperse the Knesset, which if all 61 were to support, results in a new general election.

  • However, Zoabi appears to be hedging for now. During her interviews last night she was non-committal about whether she would vote to dissolve the Knesset. She could still be persuaded to support the coalition from the outside.
  • If the government falls as result of Zoabi’s vote, Bennett would remain interim prime minister during elections and until a new government is formed. If the government were to have been brought down by a Yamina or New Hope MK, then Lapid would have automatically become interim prime minister.
  • This is the second resignation from the coalition, following Yamina MK Idit Silman last month.
  • Zoabi voted against the government’s bill on ultra-Orthodox military draft, which caused it to fall. At the time she said it was in protest of the JNF tree planting on land claimed by Bedouin.
  • As a result, the coalition leadership identified her as a potential renegade and had sought to appoint her to a senior diplomatic posting as Israel’s next consul general in Shanghai.
  • Over the last month there was concern over the status of the United Arab List (UAL / Ra’am) in coalition, after they temporarily suspended their membership over violence on the Temple Mount. However, last week UAL leader Mansour Abbas said his party will give the coalition another chance. They agreed to advance the recognition of illegally build Bedouin communities in the south and speed up the process to distribute funds allocated in the budget.
  • Zoubia’s decision places the UAL in a difficult predicament vis-a-vis the Arab public, and despite Abbas’s commitment, the resignation adds pressure onto other UAL MKs to follow.
  • The Knesset’s summer session only began last week. The coalition had hoped to advance various bills, including a re-introduction of the IDF draft bill for ultra-Orthodox men, pension reform for the professional army, and even preparations for next year’s budget.
  • A vote to disband the Knesset still relies on the Joint List (and Zoabi) supporting the Likud, the hard-right Religious Zionists and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
  • Some ultra-Orthodox MK’s have spoken out again going to elections again and would prefer to support a prime ministerial candidate and form a new government within the current Knesset.
  • There are renewed speculation that in order to avoid new elections, some MKs from Yamina could support the formation of a right-wing government even under the leadership of Netanyahu. If that move has close to 60 supporters there will be heavy pressure placed on New Hope and even Blue and White to join a right-wing government and avoid elections.

Looking ahead: Foreign Minister Lapid is due to meet Zoabi on Sunday in an effort to change her mind.

  • Next Monday, there is expected to be a vote to grant scholarships for discharged IDF soldiers to study at university. The bill had provoked disagreements within the Likud. Some MKs are torn between supporting a bill they agree with versus their preference not to give the government any support at all.
  • The opposition could table a bill to dissolve the Knesset as early as next week. The election could then be fixed for some time in September.
  • The government still aspires to celebrate a full year in power on June 13.


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