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'I’ll vote in accordance with my conscience'

In first comments, rebel Meretz MK ambiguous on support for new elections

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi says ‘there’s no way back’ after resignation, but suggests she could support government ‘from the outside’ if it shifts policies

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses a Knesset committee. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi addresses a Knesset committee. (Danny Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said Thursday evening that there was “no way back” from her decision to resign from the coalition, but left open the question of whether she will lend a hand to the opposition’s efforts to initiate snap elections.

“I’ll vote in accordance with my conscience,” she told Channel 12 when asked how she would vote if Likud submits a bill to dissolve the Knesset next week.

Rinawie Zoabi’s resignation, announced earlier Thursday, sent shockwaves through Israel’s political arena, putting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition on the brink of collapse, with the support of only 59 MKs out of 120.

But with the other 61 Knesset members divided between a right-religious bloc, the six-MK Arab-majority Joint List party, and three coalition defectors who could face sanctions if elections are called, speculation remained rampant over whether opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could garner the 61 votes needed to dissolve the Knesset, or even replace the coalition with his own government — without resort to elections — should more right-wing lawmakers jump ship.

As she did in her letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid informing them of her departure, Rinawie Zoabi in her TV interview cited recent police conduct on the Temple Mount and at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“The Arab public is fed up with the behavior of this government,” she told Channel 12, in what was her first public appearance since announcing her resignation.

Rinawie Zoabi clarified though that she “won’t automatically blow up the coalition.”

If Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Defense Minister Benny Gantz change their behavior, she continued, “I might support the coalition from the outside.”

Left: Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on June 21, 2021. Right: Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; collage by Times of Israel)

Shaked has been one of the most vocal right-wing members of the government, advancing the so-called Citizenship Law, which renewed a ban on permits for Palestinians who marry Israelis to live with their spouses in Israel. Gantz’s office advanced plans for almost 4,500 settlement homes earlier this month, many of which are located deep in the West Bank, further complicating prospects for a two-state solution.

Rinawie Zoabi told Channel 12 that the intentions of the Islamist Ra’am party and its leader Mansour Abbas were pure when they decided to join the coalition. “They want to do good for Arab society,” she said.

“But Jewish politicians [in the coalition] are not ready to see us [Arab legislators] as equals,” she charged.

Meretz leaders said they were unable to reach Rinawie Zoabi to talk over the surprise move Thursday, but shortly after the interview, Lapid’s office said he had spoken to her and the two agreed to meet Sunday “to find a positive solution to the situation.”

The statement said the conversation was held “in a good atmosphere.” She is scheduled to meet Friday with Meretz leadership.

However, Channel 12 reported that other coalition leaders are not as optimistic about the government’s prospects for survival.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is asked a question by a reporter outside her home after announcing her resignation from the coalition, May 19, 2022. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“The fall of the government is unpreventable,” an unnamed coalition head was quoted as having said.

The network also reported — without citing a source — that Yamina MK Abir Kara was working after Rinawie Zoabi’s announcement to cobble together a new coalition within the current Knesset that would include Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz decried the defection and the possible death of the unlikely coalition, which last June managed to push Netanyahu out of power for the first time in over a decade.

“The dissolution of the coalition would be a prize to Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [cause] great damage to all of society — Jews and Arabs,” Horowitz, who is health minister, wrote on Twitter, referring to the outspoken far-right MK from the Religious Zionism party.

Until they joined the government last June, Meretz had not been part of the coalition for over 20 years.

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.

Some reports suggested that Rinawie Zoabi’s resignation was linked to delays in the nomination process.

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.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during his Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on May 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Lapid promised Rinawie Zoabi during their Thursday call that he would see to it that she would become consul general in Shanghai if she walked back her resignation.

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