Events on Al-Aqsa are 'a red line for me and Arab society'

Ra’am MK Ghanaim says he won’t commit to coalition if Temple Mount tensions persist

Threatening to further destabilize coalition, Mazen Ghanaim vows to vote in line with conscience unless government begins to ‘protect Al-Aqsa’

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

MK Mazen Ghanaim (center) speaks with MK Ahmad Tibi during a Knesset plenum session, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Mazen Ghanaim (center) speaks with MK Ahmad Tibi during a Knesset plenum session, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim said he will no longer feel beholden to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition should tensions surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem persist, he told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Conflict on the Temple Mount has exacerbated tensions within the government’s struggling coalition, which lost its majority earlier this month and is at a 60-60 seat parity with the opposition. A lack of support from Ghanaim would strike a significant and possibly fatal blow to the ailing government’s ability to function.

“If the government continues to not protect Al-Aqsa, then of course I’ll see myself outside of the coalition,” said Ghanaim. “Without a doubt, what is happening on Al-Aqsa is a red line. For me and for Arab society.”

He did not specify whether he would formally quit the coalition, in the style of Yamina MK Idit Silman, or choose to selectively support the coalition in votes.

“I will be an MK in every way, I will vote according to my conscience,” Ghanaim said, dismissing the notion that he would resign from the Knesset.

Critically, Ghanaim noted that he had not yet spoken to his party about his position, something fellow Ra’am MK Walid Taha confirmed to The Times of Israel.

“But my party knows that for us, Al-Aqsa, it’s something that none of us can ignore,” Ghanaim added.

Palestinians, including one waving a Hamas flag, clash with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on April 22, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Over the past few weeks, it has been the site of riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, heightened by this year’s coterminous celebration of Ramadan and Passover.

Ghanaim described what he said were “really hard pictures” of police at the holy site “hitting children, women, to men, to old people.” Israeli authorities insist police only acted to remove Palestinian rioters who were disturbing the peace and preventing visitors from accessing the compound.

Ghanaim’s Arab Islamist Ra’am party is currently on a time-out from actively supporting the coalition in protest to Israel’s handling of the Temple Mount crisis, but party leader Mansour Abbas has left open the door to quickly return, should tensions calm and the government answer upon a number of demands made by the party.

Among the conditions for its return were a signed agreement from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to reaffirm the contentious holy area’s status quo, whereby Muslims can pray at the site, but non-Muslims can only visit.

“We came into this government and we paid a heavy price in order to maintain it,” said Ghanaim. “If they protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque, this government will continue to exist.”

In addition to tensions on the Temple Mount, Ghanaim said that he is also disappointed by the lack of traction on a solution for citizenship issues for Palestinians with the Interior Ministry.

“I hope and believe we can figure it out,” but to date, “we haven’t had an answer” from Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.

“I would be happy to speak with her.”

A former mayor of the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin, Ghanaim is widely expected to run for his former role in next year’s municipal elections and may already see a ticking clock on his Knesset tenure.

Earlier this month, Ghanaim told The Times of Israel that: “It’s not easy to be an Arab member of the Knesset in Israel. You have to swallow a lot. Your coalition partners want things and you have to swallow them.”

Currently on recess, the Knesset is slated to return for its summer session on May 8.

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