Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas warned Monday that his party’s temporary freeze of participation in the government or the Knesset could become permanent if there is no change for the better in Israel’s policy regarding the Temple Mount, the scene of recent violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli police.
Abbas told the Kan public broadcasters that Ra’am, an Arab Israeli Islamist party, could pull its four seats from the government over the matter. However, he added that Ra’am would end its protest should the government change its approach.
“If the reality changes and the policies change, this freeze will also change,” he said.
Ra’am announced its freeze on Sunday amid mounting pressure on the party over the Temple Mount unrest.
The decision is largely declarative at this stage, because parliament is in recess, though opposition sources said they saw it as a further opportunity to weaken the coalition, encourage defections, and bring down the government.
According to sources quoted in Hebrew media Sunday, the measure — which will last for two weeks and is coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — is aimed at easing the pressure on the party, as well as preventing a permanent break with the government.
The sources said that since the tensions surrounding the Temple Mount have risen as the Knesset is in the midst of spring recess, Ra’am officials are hoping that by the time parliament reconvenes on May 9, the situation will calm down.
According to a Monday evening Channel 12 report, Ra’am issued a series of specific demands that it said would have to be met in order for it to return to the government.
The central condition is for Israel to restore the status quo on the Temple Mount under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray. An increasing number of reports in recent months have indicated that this policy is being consistently violated, with authorities standing by as ultra-nationalist Jewish visitors pray quietly as they make their way through the site. This was the case on Monday as well, according to a Haaretz reporter who accompanied a group of Jewish pilgrims.
Ra’am is also demanding that the government fast-track pledges to allocate NIS 30 million ($9.27 million) in funding for Israel’s long-neglected Arab communities and to recognize a number of Bedouin villages in the Negev that were erected without the difficult-to-receive permits. Channel 12 said Ra’am wants a written commitment from Bennett to address the housing crisis in Arab towns as well as a boosted effort by Israeli authorities to crack down on illegal weapons in Arab communities.
The party is evidently looking to deliver for its constituencies as it comes under increasing fire for being part of a government that gives law enforcement free rein to operate on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, regardless of the circumstances.
The government is already on the brink of collapse after MK Idit Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, bolted the coalition, erasing its razor-thin majority. The 120-member Knesset is now deadlocked, with both the coalition and opposition holding 60 seats apiece.
The Likud party, the largest in the opposition, has since been trying to pry more coalition MKs away, in the hope of replacing the government.
Channel 12 reported Monday that MK Mazen Ghanaim is receiving phone calls and other approaches from various figures on behalf of Likud, urging him to reject Ra’am’s mere pause of participation in the government and instead declare an exit from the coalition.
Sources close to Ghanaim said the appeals are coming from members of the Arab community who are identified with Likud or figures close to the party itself. The sources said “generous offers” are being made to Ganaim about his political future, according to the network.
However, the lawmaker himself clarified to the station that he has no intention of cooperating with Likud, which is led by MK Benjamin Netanyhau, the former prime minister.
“Anyone who opposes the policies of the current government will even more so oppose the policies of a Netanyahu government,” he said.
The report did not say why Ghanaim, in particular, has been targeted for defection, but the lawmaker has in the past threatened that Ra’am would leave the government over a bill to allow thousands of illegally built homes in Arab communities to be connected to the power grid.
The Temple Mount has seen clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli police in recent days, as tens of thousands attend prayers at the mosque for Ramadan. The Muslim holy month is often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.
This year, Ramadan and the week-long Jewish Passover holiday have overlapped, further driving up friction between Israelis and Palestinians, as both religious groups flock to their holy places in Jerusalem. The confluence of the holidays this year has been seen for months as potential kindling for an eruption of violence.
On Friday morning, hundreds of Palestinians fought with police at the site, resulting in hundreds of arrests. Tens of thousands later attended peaceful Ramadan prayers at the mosque.