Ra’am lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim said he will recommend to his Islamist faction it quit the increasingly fragile coalition, as the Knesset prepares to reconvene Monday following its spring holiday recess.
“The storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, every day; the construction of new settlements. This government is not promoting peace [with the Palestinians] or equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel,” Ghanaim said in a phone interview Sunday.
Ra’am froze its membership in the coalition three weeks ago following heavy clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The freeze was originally set to last only two weeks, the majority of that time during the Knesset recess. But Ra’am had yet to formally rejoin the coalition as of Sunday, another Ra’am Knesset member, Walid Taha, confirmed.
“The freeze on our membership is ongoing. It will end in the event that we reach agreements with them on all the issues,” Taha said.
According to Ghanaim, Ra’am will meet Friday to make a final decision on its future in the coalition.
The current Israeli coalition — split between left and right, Islamists and settlers — already holds just 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset following the recent defection of coalition whip Idit Silman from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s own Yamina party.
The opposition is planning a vote of no-confidence for Wednesday in a bid to topple the government, but it is far from clear whether it has the numbers to prevail.
Ghanaim said he would likely abstain from the upcoming vote on dissolving the Knesset. He added that Ra’am’s theory of change — that agreeing to become part of the coalition would allow it to achieve tangible achievements for Arab Israelis — had failed.
“Naftali Bennett and his right-wing members are working against lawmakers who support peace and equality. And it’s they who are encouraging the settlers to invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Ghanaim said. Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, while within their rights under the status quo in effect at the holy site, are often referred to by Arab leaders as “settlers,” regardless of where they live.
Known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to Muslims, the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third-holiest. Tensions on the holy site in recent weeks have led to violent clashes, rising pressure from Israel’s allies, and threats from Hamas terrorists, as well as heightening the ongoing coalition crisis.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque holds tremendous resonance for the Islamist Ra’am party, which is the political arm of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Recurring visits by right-wing Jewish groups — as well as footage of some worshiping and seeking to raise Israeli flags at the site — sparked widespread anger in the party.
Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas wrote in a Saturday Facebook post that understandings between Jordan and Israel regarding the Temple Mount will determine his party’s position to stay in the coalition.
“Ra’am’s position in the coalition, as regards the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, will be based on the results of the joint Israeli-Jordanian-international meetings,” Abbas wrote.
“The coalition’s leadership — Prime Minister [Bennett] and Alternate Prime Minister [Yair Lapid] — have been informed of this clear and definitive position,” Abbas added.
An Islamic Movement official told The Times of Israel that Ra’am had pushed for the new joint Israel-Jordanian committee to resolve burning issues on the Temple Mount, such as reducing the Israeli police presence and expanding the Waqf’s authority.
According to the official, the committee was devised by Ra’am in consultation with the Jordanian monarch during Abbas’s visits to Amman in recent weeks.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel insisted in response to Abbas’s comments that Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remained absolute, saying “there are no other players in Jerusalem.”
“There is no change in Israeli sovereignty, neither on the Temple Mount nor anywhere else, and there will be no change,” Hendel told the Kan public broadcaster on Saturday night.
With the Knesset set to return on Monday, Israeli opposition lawmakers, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are planning to call a vote aiming to topple the government.
However, it remains unlikely that the opposition can muster the 61 votes necessary to dissolve the Knesset and force new elections. Neither the Arab Joint List nor ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism have expressed a strong desire to head to elections and it remains unclear whether they would vote to topple the government.
Meanwhile, Bennett and Lapid were set to meet Sunday with the heads of coalition parties in preparation for the upcoming summer session — excluding Abbas, who is abroad.