Joint List MK Sami Abou Shahadeh announced on Friday that he would submit legislation to begin the process of dissolving the Knesset next week, following the resignation of a Meretz lawmaker from the coalition, forcing the government to circle the wagons if it wants to prevent a fifth election in less than three years.
Speculation spiked that the bill to dissolve parliament would be submitted next Wednesday almost immediately after Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi announced she was quitting on Thursday morning, though most suspected the opposition-leading Likud party would be the one to move it forward. But as Benjamin Netanyahu’s party mulled on whether and when to make the announcement, it was one-upped by Abou Shahadeh, who heads the nationalist Balad faction within the six-seat, majority-Arab Joint List.
“I will submit the Knesset Dispersal Law [for a vote] next Wednesday. This bad government must fall,” he announced.
While Meretz MK Rinawie Zoabi’s resignation leaves the coalition with just 59 MKs, and a preliminary reading of a bill to disperse the Knesset for new elections needs only a simple majority, it would need an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs to clear its subsequent three readings, and it is not clear that the opposition could muster those 61 votes. Rinawie Zoabi said Thursday evening that she still hasn’t decided how she would vote if the bill is presented next week.
Moreover, while Abou Shahadeh made clear he would vote with the rest of the Likud-led opposition — which is made up of right-wing and religious parties — to dissolve parliament, there has been speculation that other members of the Joint List might be willing to throw the coalition a lifeline.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s office has been in intensive negotiations with Ahmad Tibi, who heads the two-MK Ta’al faction within the Joint List, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday.
The sides are reportedly discussing the government earmarking budgets for the paving of roads in long-neglected Arab towns in exchange for Tibi cooperating in the Knesset with the coalition. Lapid is being represented by the director of his Alternate Prime Minister office Na’ama Shultz, who has in turn been consulting with representatives from the Transportation and Finance ministries on the issue. Tibi has asked for NIS 200 million ($60 million) to finance the infrastructure projects, Kan said.
In what did not amount to a denial of the report, Lapid’s office said in a statement: “The Israeli government is currently working to rehabilitate infrastructure that has been neglected throughout the country. This is our job and, unlike the previous governments, we are also carrying it out.”
Tibi’s office offered a slightly different narrative, saying he had raised the demand for such infrastructure projects to the Knesset Finance Committee and had also submitted a request to the Transportation Ministry “a long time ago,” and insisting that it had nothing to do with the latest coalition crisis that began on Thursday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which represents the coalition’s right-wing flank, issued a full-throttled denial of any cooperation or plans for cooperation with the Joint List.
“The government will not rely on the Joint List in any constellation, and there are no agreements with them,” the party said.
“The State of Israel cares for all Israeli citizens, and there is a spin here of politicians dressing up routine government actions as if they are part of a political agreement,” Yamina said, adding that the Likud and Religious Zionism opposition parties have tried to present the building of any school or community center in an Arab town as a “surrender agreement to the Arabs.”
Not missing a beat, Likud responded to the Kan report, saying that “Bennett is giving NIS 200 million to terror supporters while rejecting an additional NIS 50 million for our soldiers.”
The latter comment was in reference to legislation the coalition is seeking to pass that would see the government provide scholarships to discharged combat soldiers. After announcing that it would not back the bill so as not to give a win to the coalition, Likud said Thursday that it would only back the measure if it covered 100 percent of the tuition costs, as opposed to the two-thirds proposed in the legislation. The demand would mean an extra NIS 50 million ($15 million) in government spending.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz spoke with Rinawie Zoabi in an effort to encourage her to rejoin the coalition or at least minimize the damage of her departure.
A senior coalition official told the Haaretz daily that Rinawie Zoabi promised not to bring about the downfall of the government — an apparent indication that she would not vote with the opposition on a bill for new elections.
However, the official said there is still concern that the rebel MK might abstain in next week’s vote, if it is held, which might enable it to pass its preliminary reading and then gain sufficient momentum to the point where other coalition members vote for it in subsequent reading, enabling its final passage and new elections.
Another senior coalition member told Haaretz that contact between Rinawie Zoabi and the coalition will now primarily go through Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, given the former MK’s rocky ties with the rest of the Meretz party.
Abbas met with Rinawie Zoabi at her home in Nof Hagalil on Friday and told Channel 13 afterward that the Meretz MK “was elected to represent Arab society. She has done so and will continue to do so. She has a great responsibility, and I trust her.”
Rinawie Zoabi shocked the already teetering coalition when she announced her resignation early Thursday.
In a letter to Bennett and Lapid notifying them of the move, she said it 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.
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.