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Israeli lawmaker retracts decision to quit coalition

After meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Regional Development Minister Esawi Frej and others, Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi has decided not to quit the coalition after all.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of the Meretz Party said yesterday she will support the government despite her May 19 announcement that she was quitting the coalition. Thus the Bennett-Lapid government has survived another coalition crisis. Rinawie Zoabi reportedly changed her mind following a long meeting at the Finance Ministry with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Minister in the Finance Ministry Hamad Amar of the Yisrael Beitenu Party, Minister for Regional Cooperation Esawi Frej of Meretz and several Arab heads of local authorities.

At the meeting, Ronawie Zoabi said, "I come from Arab local government, where I grew up politically. Now I am in the Knesset in order to benefit the Arab community. … I am aware and understand that the alternative to this government is that the next police minister will be [far-right Knesset member Itamar] Ben Gvir and I want to prevent that alternative. … I will support the coalition. But I want the government to be genuine and attentive to the Arab community and its needs in health, education, housing and infrastructure."

Lapid said, "I welcome Knesset member Rinawie Zoabi back to the coalition. We conducted an open, candid, temperate discussion of the real needs of the Arab community, both with her and with the heads of the local authorities, whom I thank for coming and rallying around us. We have put this dispute behind us and we are getting back to work in the government."

After the meeting, Frej tweeted, “It was all for the best, the coalition emerged stronger from the crisis. We will continue to work for the benefit of the Arab community and the benefit of all of Israeli society.” 

At the meeting itself, participants discussed budgets for the five-year plan for the Arab community and how a mechanism could be built to send these funds quicker to the local authorities who need every cent of the plan’s budget.

The more ideological issues Rinawie Zoabi had brought up in her resignation letter were not discussed. In her letter, Rinawie Zoabi accused the government of “hawkish stances” on issues critical to Arab society. “The last month, the month of Ramadan, has been intolerable. The sights that came from the Temple Mount of violent police in front of a crowd of worshipers, the funeral of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, they brought me to a personal values conclusion. No more. I cannot continue to support the existence of a coalition that is disgracefully harassing this society I came from,” she wrote.

It seems that three people can take credit for changing Rinawie Zoabi's mind: Lapid and Frej, along with Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas. Although Abbas did not participate in the meeting at the Finance Ministry, most of the local authority heads who were there are either close to Ra’am or support its position in the coalition. 

The crisis exposed once again two streams within Arab-Israeli society. The first calls for participation in the coalition and supports Ra’am, while the second opposes integration and supports the Joint List in the opposition.

The first stream was reflected in a campaign that erupted over social media after Rinawie Zoabi’s May 19 announcement, calling on her not to dissolve the government. She was urged, “Don’t bring them back to the government,” with photos of far-right Knesset members Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Meretz member Idrees Mawassi told Al-Monitor, “I oppose the decision to resign because the mandate does not belong to her but to the party, and she does not have the right to make an independent decision like that. If she is not comfortable with the coalition, she should do us a favor and retire from the Knesset. She got a mandate for the Knesset, following which she secured an appointment to the Shanghai consulate. Once the appointment was delayed, this crisis occurred, which can only prove there is no ideology behind her resignation, only personal interests.”

On the other hand, Joint List chair Ayman Odeh tweeted after the May 19 announcement, “A coalition that attacks funerals, allows Kahane militants to march in east Jerusalem, deepens the occupation and abuses Arabs in the Negev has no existence. Most of the public wants partnership but for this to happen the sane majority must separate from the extreme right and build our society with real partnership that is based on peace and equality.” 

Joint List faction member Balad's chair Sami Abu Shehadeh was also quick to react to the resignation, announcing, “This coming Wednesday I will bring the Knesset dissolution law to the quorum. This bad government must fall.”

Former Balad Knesset member Mtanes Shehadeh said in conversation with Al-Monitor, “This is a transparent move whose results were known and can be summed up in a few words:  a show with no sustainable political purpose.” 

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