Despite resignation, Meretz MK reportedly unlikely to vote for new elections

Meretz leadership struggles to get in touch with Rinawie Zoabi after bombshell announcement; move comes against backdrop of delayed confirmation as envoy in China

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses the Knesset plenum. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses the Knesset plenum. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi reportedly does not intend on voting to topple the government, even after resigning from the coalition on Thursday.

Rinawie Zoabi’s shock resignation dropped Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition from a 60-seat tie with the opposition into the minority, sparking widespread speculation over whether she will back opposition efforts to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, or support the coalition from the outside on key votes.

The Likud party is expected to submit legislation to dissolve the Knesset next Wednesday.

Rinawie Zoabi’s office told Haaretz that the Meretz MK hasn’t yet reached a decision on how she will vote. Her decision will be critical to the opposition, which will need 61 votes in order to pass the legislation and initiate snap elections — the fifth in less than three years.

The newspaper said unnamed sources who had spoken to the renegade lawmaker had come away with the impression that she did not intend to vote to bring down the government

Rinawie Zoabi’s resignation leaves the coalition with a minority of just 59 MKs in the 120-member Knesset, but it is not clear that every member of the opposition will support dissolving parliament, as it would place their political futures at risk.

In a letter addressed to coalition leaders Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Rinawie Zoabi said her move was prompted by a rightward shift from the government.

“Unfortunately, in recent months, out of narrow political considerations, the leaders of the coalition have chosen to preserve and strengthen its right-wing flank,” she wrote, also citing police conduct during recent clashes with Palestinians on the Temple Mount as well as during the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last Friday where officers pushed and beat mourners, causing pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost toppling it, outside Saint Joseph’s Hospital during her funeral in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

“I cannot continue to support a coalition that is disgracefully harassing the society from which I came,” she wrote.

Rinawie Zoabi’s fellow faction members, who said they learned about her decision from media reports after the fact, scrambled to see if there was a way to roll the move back.

After failing to get ahold of Rinawie Zoabi by phone, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej began driving to her home in Nazareth, Haaretz reported.

They later turned back after finding out that Rinawie Zoabi was on her way to the Channel 12 news studio near Jerusalem for an interview.

Her meeting with Meretz leadership was postponed until Friday.

Horowitz tweeted early Thursday evening, “our coalition is important and we are working to maintain it. The dissolution of the coalition will be a reward for [Opposition chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Religious Zionism MK Itamar] Ben Gvir and cause great damage to society as a whole — to both Arabs and Jews alike. Meretz and I are committed to every effort to stabilize the government and ensure its continued existence. The disputes in the government will be resolved behind closed doors.”

But while her fellow coalition members were kept in the dark, the Walla news site reported that Rinawie Zoabi shared her considerations with Shas MK Yinon Azoulay several days ahead of time. The two lawmakers have grown close in recent months and even worked together to torpedo Knesset legislation regulating exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis in January.

Upon learning of Rinawie Zoabi’s reflections, Azoulay passed them along to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, who then informed Netanyahu, Walla said. Azoulay declined to respond to the report while Netanyahu issued a denial.

While Meretz leadership would prefer that Rinawie Zoabi resign from the Knesset in light of her decision, an official in the party told Ynet that members of the faction do not believe she will take that step.

As Meretz sought to plug its own leaky ship, Bennett also scheduled a meeting of his Yamina party for later Thursday evening in order to discuss next steps. However, it was subsequently canceled for undisclosed reasons.

Rinawie Zoabi’s refusal to vote with the razor-thin coalition on key bills had proven a headache for colleagues and she had been set to be shuttled off to Shanghai to serve as Israeli consul general. However, she withdrew her nomination for the post when she left the coalition, a spokesperson said.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz with MK Tamar Zandberg and Meretz party member Esawi Frej during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

While Lapid announced Rinawie Zoabi’s appointment in February, he held off on submitting her nomination to the Civil Service Commission until last month. According to Haaretz, this was due to opposition from members of the panel to the appointment of the left-wing lawmaker.

Knesset officials also notified Rinawie Zoabi that she would have to resign from parliament immediately after the Civil Service Commission’s confirmation, which angered the Meretz MK, who wanted to remain in her current post until just before her term in Shanghai was slated to commence later this year, Haaretz reported.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report

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