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Bennett, Lapid to meet coalition chiefs amid ongoing political crisis

Abbas says Ra’am’s stance on Al-Aqsa will reflect that of Jordan’s king, who he calls site’s rightful custodian; Abbas said opposed to anti-gov’t steps by party’s ruling council

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) attend a departure ceremony for an Israeli delegation flying out to set up a field hospital in Ukraine at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 21, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) attend a departure ceremony for an Israeli delegation flying out to set up a field hospital in Ukraine at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 21, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were set to meet Sunday with the heads of coalition parties in preparation for the Knesset’s upcoming summer session, as the government continues to teeter on the brink of collapse, having lost its parliamentary majority.

A key question is whether the Islamist Arab Ra’am party will return to the fold, having frozen its coalition involvement during last month’s unrest and riots at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas is not expected to take part in Sunday’s meeting as he is currently abroad. According to Channel 12 news, Abbas was working to convince its religious advisory body, the Shura Council, not to take any further drastic steps against the coalition.

On Facebook Saturday, Abbas said his party would determine its position on the Al-Aqsa Mosque based on the positions of Jordanian King Abdullah II, who he said was the rightful custodian of the holy site.

Known as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex to Muslims, the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest. Tensions on the holy site have reverberated into terror attacks, pressure from Israel’s allies, threats from Hamas, and the exacerbation of the ongoing coalition crisis.

The coalition currently only has 60 seats in parliament — exactly half of the Knesset total of 120. If Ra’am pulls out its four seats, the government will find itself in a minority.

In an interview published Friday, Abbas said his party will not bring down the government and that he was working with Jordan to resolve tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday that Israeli officials had relayed to the Biden administration that if the government fails to advance plans to build nearly 4,000 settlement homes in the West Bank, the coalition will fall apart.

According to the report, the officials conveyed that the coalition needed to meet its commitments to right-wing parties and voters in the wide coalition headed by Bennett, and that should it fail to do so, the government would fall.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej of the left-wing Meretz party complained Saturday that the coalition’s right-wing parties were taking advantage of the fact that the left flank was unlikely to bring down the government to advance issues like settlement construction.

“Our partners in the government know Meretz won’t quit because we don’t want [Itamar] Ben Gvir as justice minister or interior minister,” Frej said, in reference to the far-right MK who could be a key member of any new right-wing government.

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“They know we won’t leave, because the alternative is monstrous, frightening and bad for Jews, Arabs and the country. With this knowledge, they allow themselves to pull the rug in unfavorable directions.”

The current government, which ranges from Bennett’s nationalist Yamina party to the staunchly left-wing Meretz and the Islamist Ra’am, was formed last June after former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies again failed to secure a parliamentary majority following the fourth elections in two years.

The coalition now finds itself on life support after a Yamina lawmaker defected to join the opposition, depriving the government of its narrow majority in the Knesset.

Despite the government’s lack of a majority, there is no clear constellation of lawmakers that could replace the coalition, which could limp on until new elections are called.

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