Journalist death in Jenin, compounds Israeli political crisis

What’s happened:  The United Arab List (UAL / Ra’am) has decided not to quit the coalition after it temporarily suspended its membership last month over violence on the Temple Mount.

  • Speaking to media in the Knesset, UAL leader Mansour Abbas said his party will give the coalition another chance to implement bills related to the Arab sector that were agreed upon in coalition agreements.
  • The party’s supreme authority, the Shurah (religious) Council, was expected to announce their decision earlier this morning in Kfar Qasim but Abbas cancelled his press conference due to the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a gunfight in Jenin between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen.
  • Instead, Abbas issued a statement lamenting Abu Akleh’s death, explaining the press conference was cancelled as an act of solidarity with the victim, but refrained from blaming Israel for her death.

Shooting in Jenin: The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed Shireen Abu Akleh was hit in the head by live fire.

  • A second Al Jazeera journalist, Ali Samodi, sustained a gunshot wound to the back and is in stable condition.
  • Israeli security forces were conducting an anti-terror operation inside Jenin. According to the IDF, during the operation, “massive shootings were fired at the forces and explosives were also thrown their way. The force responded by firing”.
  • Palestinian officials have blamed Israel for shooting the journalists.
  • Prime Minister Bennett responded saying, “According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians, who were firing indiscriminately at the time, were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.”
  • The IDF are investigating the incident. According to IDF Spokesperson Ran Kochav, the IDF proposed a joint pathological investigation. Various methods, including clarifying the bullet type and ballistics could determine who killed her. However, crucially, the Red Crescent took the body away immediately after the shooting.
  • Video footage on social media shows a Palestinian gunman saying, “We hit a soldier, he is lying on the ground.” However, no IDF soldier has been reported injured, suggesting it is possible that the Palestinians are responsible for the journalist’s death.

Political context:  The viability of the coalition has been increasingly shaky following Yamina MK Idit Silman’s decision to quit the coalition, leaving them poised 60-60 without a majority.

  • The UAL froze their membership of the coalition last month, following concern over perceived changes in the status quo and subsequent rioting on the Temple Mount. The UAL is demanding reinforcements of Waqf officials on the Temple Mount and progress in planning and construction in Arab communities.
  • Whilst the UAL will not quit the coalition at this stage, it remains to be seen whether it will end its suspension of coalition activity today.
  • Last night the Likud took advantage of the coalition crisis to restate: “The fact that the future of our present government is dependent on the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood is another historical low to which Bennett is dragging us. A government that depends on terrorist sympathisers cannot possibly fight against it.”
  • UAL leader Abbas said in response: “The UAL is exercising its democratic right in the State of Israel. Netanyahu also waited for decisions by the UAL’s Shura Council when he held negotiations with us over forming a government, meeting with me four times in his residence on Balfour Street.”
  • He added: “The UAL and its institutions, including the Shura Council, constitute a legitimate democratic body in the State of Israel, and they are conducting themselves with responsibility and stateliness, despite the efforts to incite and to delegitimise them. The UAL is meeting its civic responsibility and its commitments to Arab society and its identity. Bibi, no one believes your delegitimisation campaigns anymore.”
  • Adding to the pressure on UAL, the other Arab party, the Joint List, formally announced yesterday that it would vote in favour of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, if a vote is held today.
  • The Knesset began the summer session earlier this week. The opposition brought two no-confidence motions to a vote, both of which were defeated.
  • According to the latest poll on Channel 13 news, if an election were held now, the Likud would win 36 seats, Yesh Atid 18, Religious Zionism 9, Yamina 8, Joint List 8, Blue and White 7, Shas 7, UTJ 7, Labour 6, Yisrael Beiteinu 5, Meretz 5, and New Hope 4.
  • In the scenario that the UAL brings down the government, Naftali Bennett remains interim prime minister. If the government collapses due to one more right-wing MK defection, then according to the coalition agreement, Yair Lapid automatically becomes prime minister of the interim government.

Looking forward: At the time of writing, the Likud-led opposition has not yet decided whether to introduce today a bill to dissolve the Knesset for its preliminary reading.

  • The opposition is expected to withdraw the bill as the UAL has decided not quit the coalition. The Likud is wary that if they introduce a bill which is defeated in its preliminary reading, it cannot be reintroduced to the Knesset for six months.
  • If they do not introduce the bill today, the government faces this potential threat every Wednesday, when a private members bill can be advanced.
  • Mediation of the coalition crisis is expected to continue between UAL MK Waleed Taha and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

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