Ra’am lawmakers warn they may trigger more coalition crises to achieve goals

Party MKs deny what they are doing is extortion, insist their latest demands were in original coalition agreements, and say they will fight to see them honored

Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim, seen at the Knesset on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim, seen at the Knesset on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Ra’am party lawmakers said Monday they won’t balk at initiating coalition crises to get what they want, a day after the Islamist party briefly threatened to suspend work with the coalition.

Sunday saw ministers vote to immediately move the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev from the Economy Ministry to the Welfare Ministry. The move had been planned to take place next week, but Ra’am demanded it be moved up, warning it could stop cooperating with the coalition if it were not.

News outlets quoted sources saying Ra’am was voicing general frustration about the government’s treatment of the party, arguing that it had made the most concessions and reaped the smallest gains of any faction in the coalition, particularly regarding its demands on construction permits for its Bedouin constituents in the Negev region.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ganaim on Monday denied the party was extorting the government and insisted it wants Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to succeed.

“What we are doing is not extortion,” he told Channel 12 news, saying the party was simply acting on behalf of the country’s Arab community.

“This is a population of nearly 18% that has been neglected,” he said. “What we are doing here is a correction.”

Ganaim said Ra’am had made it quite clear during coalition-building that it would act to serve Arab society. He said the party wants to be “a legitimate player” and that he hopes the government “understands us.”

There have been reports that Ra’am is concerned over other coalition parties’ talks with the Joint List party on potential legislative cooperation, in order to widen the razor-thin majority they have in the Knesset. Such a move would weaken Ra’am’s own negotiating power by making it no longer vital to passing legislation. Ra’am has reportedly threatened not to vote with the coalition if it continues to court the Joint List.

Questioned on the matter, Ganaim said it was for the Joint List to decide for itself how to act.

Ra’am MK Waleed Taha attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fellow Ra’am MK Waleed Taha predicted to NasRadio that Sunday’s developments “will not be the last coalition crisis,” according to a report on his remarks from Channel 12.

Having achieved what it wanted regarding crime and unrecognized villages in the Bedouin community, Ra’am was now “waiting for the next crisis and achievement,” he said.

Speaking to Army Radio, Taha took a less combative tone, saying he didn’t know if there will be similar crises in the future.

“That depends on others,” he said. “I hope not, but if necessary, it will happen.”

Agreements made with Ra’am during coalition negotiations must be respected, Taha said. “If someone forgot that during the last three weeks, we are reminding him.”

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer dismissed the notion that Ra’am was strong-arming the government, telling the Ynet website the party’s latest demands were all part of the coalition agreements and that the deals needed to be honored.

“I am glad that these problems and these little squeaks within the coalition have been resolved,” he said.

Minister of Agriculture Oded Forer arrives at the new government’s first weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAN / AFP)

Forer said he was confident that Ra’am would ultimately continue to cooperate with the government. He said further challenges are expected due to the diverse mix of parties making up the coalition, but that all of its members are committed to the overarching goal of passing the state budget.

“I think specifically on that there is broad consensus,” he said.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the opposition Religious Zionism party, tweeted Monday: “In the coming days we will find out what state property assets were sold off in order to preserve Naftali Bennett’s seat.”

In joining the coalition Ra’am became the first Arab Israeli party to do so in decades and the first to be a crucial element in maintaining the government’s majority.

Right-wing members of the opposition have claimed this would allow the Islamist, non-Zionist party to extort the government and lead to decisions and policies that will harm national security.

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