Bennett: Forming this gov't was most Zionist act of my life

Meretz MK who quit coalition says ‘alternative to existing government much worse’

Rinawie Zoabi insists she’s not walking back resignation, but acknowledges that she doesn’t want to see Netanyahu return to power and may cooperate with coalition from opposition

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at the Channel 12 news studio in Neve Ilan on May 19, 2022.  (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at the Channel 12 news studio in Neve Ilan on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said Friday that despite resigning from the coalition, she may still cooperate with the ruling bloc as “the alternative to the existing government is much worse.”

“Of course, I do not want to see Netanyahu return,” she said in an interview with the Haaretz daily, referencing the former prime minister and current opposition chairman.

Nonetheless, Rinawie Zoabi said she had not yet decided how she would vote on legislation to dissolve the Knesset and initiate snap elections if it is submitted by the opposition next week — a remark that seemed to contradict her assertion that the alternatives to the current unity government would be worse.

While her 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.

One thing Rinawie Zoabi did appear sure about though was that she would not be walking back the decision she announced on Thursday morning.

“Returning to the coalition is not something that is on the agenda for me,” she told Haaretz. “Maybe I will press [the coalition] from the [opposition] for the government to start taking the demands of the Arab public as well as the Palestinian issue seriously. I thought the government should continue in a balanced way while being attentive to [the concerns of] Arab society. Unfortunately, this did not happen.”

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in east Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

In a separate interview with the Arabic Nas Radio, Rinawie Zoabi did not rule out the possibility of resigning from the Knesset entirely to make way for a Meretz lawmaker who is supportive of the coalition.

Speaking to Haaretz, Rinawie Zoabi went on to criticize members of her own party, accusing them of ignoring her and leaving her to fight on behalf of the Arab public on her own. The MK said she pushed for the party to issue a condemnation of the police’s conduct at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh but that no one rallied around the initiative. Officers were seen pushing and beating mourners, causing pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin during a procession last Friday that drew international outcry.

“Those people who are supposed to represent Meretz. Is this what matters to them? Being in government at all costs? There are no principles? It amazes me that time and again the Jewish Israeli left wants us Arabs to save them from Netanyahu on the one hand, while on the other, they tell us to do what they want without having an opinion. It does not work that way in a true partnership. If Netanyahu returns, it will be the fault of [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and [Interior Minister Ayelet] Shaked.”

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 then spoke of her meeting with Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, saying they discussed the mutual frustration over the “rightward turn” of the government in recent months.

An unsourced Channel 13 report claimed Abbas offered to reserve a spot for Rinawie Zoabi in his Islamist party if she agreed to continue backing the coalition. The network also said, without citing a source, that Rinawie Zoabi was demanding the government earmark NIS 30 million ($9 million) to fund a hospital in Nazareth in exchange for her support.

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)

Despite her insistence that she was not walking back her decision, fellow Meretz member Esawi Frej told Channel 12 he was confident Rinawie Zoabi “will stay with us.”

He expressed his disappointment in the rebel lawmaker’s decision on Thursday and the way she has handled the matter since. Rinawie Zoabi did not update her Meretz colleagues regarding her decision ahead of time.

Channel 12 reported that MK Ahmad Tibi, who is a senior member of the opposition’s Joint List party was one of the primary sources pressuring Rinawie Zoabi to quit the coalition. Tibi did not deny the report.

Walla reported on Thursday that she had also been in touch with Shas MK Yinon Azoulay who also was pushing her to resign. She even let him know of the plan ahead of time, with Azoulay passing the news to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri who then notified Netanyahu, Walla said.

Frej acknowledged that being a part of the government has not been easy on its Arab members, particularly throughout the past month amid tensions surrounding the Temple Mount and Abu Akleh’s funeral. However, he insisted that the government was still making achievements on behalf of Israel’s long-neglected Arab population and that it wasn’t worth risking bringing far-right opposition parties to power.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett weighed in publicly for the first time regarding the latest coalition crisis.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, makes a statement at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting seated next to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

“We must not give up. We have no other country,” he wrote in a Facebook post, that didn’t comment directly on Rinawie Zoabi’s decision.

He called his decision to form a unity government, breaking with much of his right-wing base in order to prevent another election last year “the most Zionist act I have done in my life.”

“The future of the country is in jeopardy. We must fight and defeat Palestinian terrorism, and we must fight to maintain the unity of our people from within,” he wrote.

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