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Party urges international probe of Shireen Abu Akleh's death

Ra’am delays statement on Knesset dissolution bill, citing reporter’s death

Arab party’s decision is hotly awaited and expected to affect whether or not the opposition brings a Knesset dispersal measure to vote Wednesday

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra'am party in the Knesset, on November 2, 2021. (Noam Moshkavitz/GPO)
MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra'am party in the Knesset, on November 2, 2021. (Noam Moshkavitz/GPO)

The Islamist Ra’am party announced that it was canceling a scheduled press conference on Wednesday morning in which it was expected to announce its decision on whether it would vote with the coalition to fend off an expected legislative attack later in the day.

The announcement was made in the wake of the death of a veteran Al Jazeera journalist during an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

“Ra’am has decided to cancel the press conference scheduled for this morning in the city of Kfar Qasim, following the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” a statement from the party read.

The press conference was critically timed, as Likud-led opposition parties are weighing whether or not to bring a bill to disband the Knesset and force snap elections for its preliminary reading in Wednesday’s plenum.

Their decision on whether to do so largely rests with Ra’am and whether the party will use its four votes to block the bill’s passage. While the potential Wednesday preliminary reading — the first of four required votes — only needs a simple majority to pass, if it were to fail the opposition couldn’t bring a dissolution bill again for another six months. If it were to pass, the three subsequent plenum votes would require an absolute Knesset majority of at least 61 MKs.

Ra’am froze its membership in the coalition three weeks ago, citing heightened tensions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. As the party of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ra’am is advised by the movement’s Shura Council. A six-hour Shura Council meeting on Tuesday night ended without an announcement on Ra’am’s path forward, which was expected to come on Wednesday morning.

In its statement, Ra’am said it would announce the Shura Council’s decision “late in the day” on Wednesday.

MK Ahmad Tibi attends a Joint Arab list faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 7, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The embattled coalition was reduced to a 60-60 seat parity with the opposition after Yamina MK Idit Silman defected in early April. Without Ra’am’s four seats, the coalition is down to only 56 votes. The opposition, consisting of a 54-seat religious-right bloc and the six-seat majority-Arab Joint List party, expects to be able to muster 59 votes in favor of the preliminary dissolution vote. Silman is expected to abstain.

In an interview to Army Radio given after news of Abu Akleh’s death, Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi confirmed that his party plans to vote in favor of the Knesset’s dissolution if the opposition were to bring the bill on Wednesday.

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran Al-Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 (courtesy)

Earlier on Wednesday morning, veteran Al Jazeera reporter Abu Akleh was killed in Jenin. The circumstances of her death are in dispute: The Palestinian Authority says the reporter was killed by Israeli fire, while the military says Palestinians may have shot her.

Naming Abu Akleh a martyr, Ra’am said it wanted an international investigation to determine the cause of her death, which occurred during an Israel Defense Forces operation in Jenin.

“Ra’am called for the immediate establishment of an international investigation committee into the circumstances of the martyrdom of journalist Abu Akleh, stressing that the press and journalists should be protected in accordance with all laws and customs,” a statement from the party read.

Called by Tibi “the face of Palestine” to the Arab world, Abu Akleh was a prominent figure in Arab world reportage from Israel and the West Bank.

In recognition of her death, Jenin declared a day of mourning.

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