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In reversal, Meretz MK to stay in coalition, removing immediate election threat

After meeting with FM Lapid and mayors, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi says she understands that the alternative to the current government is worse

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi seen after a meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid outside the Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem, May 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi seen after a meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid outside the Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem, May 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi announced on Sunday her decision to once again vote with the government, days after she declared that she was leaving the coalition.

Zoabi’s announcement last week that she would depart the government put the coalition in the minority; with her return, the opposition/coalition breakdown returned to 60 MKs each, seemingly removing the immediate threat of the Knesset disbanding and early elections being called.

Zoabi’s decision came following a meeting in Jerusalem with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and several cabinet ministers and mayors to address her terms for returning to the government.

“Because my mission is to serve the local authorities and to bring about accomplishments to address the needs of the Arab community, I will support the coalition,” said Zoabi in a joint video announcement with Lapid and Nazareth Mayor Ali Sallam.

Zoabi said she realized that “the alternative to this government will be [far-right MK Itamar] Ben-Gvir as police minister, and I want to prevent that alternative.”

Lapid said he welcomed Zoabi’s return to the coalition after “an open dialogue” that addressed the needs of the Arabic community. “We have put this disagreement behind us and are returning to government work,” he added.

Zoabi arrived at the meeting in the Foreign Ministry flanked by several Arab mayors from across Israel, as well as Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, a fellow member of left-wing Meretz. Lapid was accompanied by the Yisrael Beytenu party’s Hamad Amar, a minister in the Finance Ministry.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left, center) meets with Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (second from right) in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Oz Avital)

According to sources quoted by Hebrew media, the mayors did not make any direct demands to Lapid but highlighted their feeling of frustration about the government not making good on its obligations and promises to the Arab community.

The sources also said that the mayors did not bring up the ongoing tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or the planned right-wing Jerusalem Day March on May 29, two issues that were cited by Zoabi last week among her reasons for departing the coalition.

“They all know there is no alternative [to the current government],” a source told the Ynet news site.

Sources quoted by Haaretz said that putting Zoabi at the forefront of efforts to aid the Arab community will strengthen the coalition’s left-wing bloc and make it harder for members of the Islamist Ra’am party, which throughout last month froze its membership in the coalition in protest of tensions in Jerusalem, to decamp to the opposition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Oz Avital)

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to persevere despite Zoabi’s resignation.

Opening the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett noted “the upheavals” facing the coalition but insisted as that members of both its right and left flanks are disgruntled, the government was probably striking the right note.

“It’s a likely sign the government is good in the middle… This is the meaning of compromise,” he said.

“This is a good government for Israel and we won’t give up,” Bennett added.

The premier argued that the government has prioritized action over ideological disputes and said coalition members must focus on what’s good for the country and not a “narrow sectoral interest.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd-R) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (2nd-L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

“We all need to understand that nobody will be 100 percent content. This is group work, not individual,” he said. “I’m sure that if we all continue to show good will, the government will emerge successfully from all crises.”

Both Bennett’s comments and Zoabi’s return to the coalition came with the opposition planning a vote Wednesday on a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections.

However, it seems that the Meretz MK’s reversal will make it unlikely the bill will be brought for a vote.

Also on Sunday, rebel Yamina MKs Amichai Chikli — who was ousted from the party — and Idit Silman, as well as ex-MK Yomtob Kalfon, who was replaced in the Knesset last week, took part in a tour of the demolished West Bank outpost Homesh.

Kalfon, who has promised that he had no intention of deserting his party or the coalition, tweeted that it is “important to strengthen Homesh and the settlements in northern Samaria.”

Opposition MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party tweeted that “this left-wing government has lost its majority among the nation and in the Knesset and it has no legitimacy to limit settlement steps in the area, and certainly not to evacuate Homesh.”

Homesh was one of four northern West Bank settlements that were evacuated in 2005 as part of the Gaza Disengagement. Israeli law bars citizens from returning to the sites of the razed settlements, but this has not stopped a group of ultra-nationalists from illegally operating a religious seminary on the site for roughly 15 years, even receiving periodic protection from the IDF. Their presence has blocked Palestinians from farming their lands, despite several court rulings ordering that they be given access.

Homesh rose to the headlines last December when one of the students from the seminary, Yehuda Dimentman, was killed in a terror shooting while on the way home from his studies.

Since the attack, settlers have sought to pressure the government to legalize the yeshiva.

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