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Ra’am’s Abbas reportedly says MK in his party will oppose crucial settlement bill

Faction leader tells coalition he can’t convince Mazen Ghanaim to support legislation to renew application of Israeli law to settlers, the latest test for the imperiled government

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas attends a discussion on violence in the Arab community on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas attends a discussion on violence in the Arab community on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The head of the Islamist Ra’am party reportedly told other coalition leaders on Friday that one of his party members will not vote for a piece of legislation next week that is seen as a crucial test for the imperiled government.

Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas said he cannot convince Knesset member Mazen Ghanaim to vote in support of the bill to renew the application of Israeli civil and criminal law to West Bank settlers, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

“I don’t see how I can get Mazen Ghanaim to vote in support of the legislation,” Abbas told other coalition leaders.

If any of the government’s lawmakers do not vote in favor of the legislation, it would further complicate the struggling coalition’s effort to muster the parliamentary majority required to pass the bill. Even with all 60 current coalition members on board, it lacks a majority. Ra’am has not said how it will vote, but reports have said Abbas is negotiating his party’s support.

The coalition has been on the ropes since Yamina lawmaker Idit Silman quit in April, stripping the government of its parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition has lurched from one crisis to another since then, and appears to be inching toward a collapse.

The coalition, an amalgam of right-wing, centrist and leftist parties, plus Ra’am, has walked a tightrope since taking power last year as it seeks to balance its parties’ disparate priorities.

Abbas sounded pessimistic about the settlement bill’s chances of passing in the Friday conversation with other coalition leaders, partly due to his suspicion that Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi may not support the legislation, the Kan report said, citing senior officials in the coalition.

The left-wing Meretz party has pledged to back the bill, but Zoabi has not clarified how she will vote.

Meretz’s backing for the bill has left Ra’am as the only coalition holdout. Ra’am has remained tight-lipped about how it will vote on the bill, but generally opposes settlers being granted rights withheld from Palestinians.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at Channel 12’s Neve Ilan studios, May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kan reported that Ra’am wanted guarantees that Zoabi will support the bill, and that Abbas was not willing to face the fallout from his voters for supporting the measure, if its passage could not be guaranteed.

Tensions between Ra’am members and Zoabi, both Arab lawmakers who prioritize Arab community issues, have been growing for the past two weeks, according to sources in Ra’am.

A Ra’am official said in a closed meeting that Zoabi “is taking credit from us for processes we moved forward on our own,” Kan reported. The Knesset Finance Committee authorized the transfer of NIS 740 million ($220 million) in pre-approved funding for the Arab community late last month after Ra’am froze cooperation with the government for several weeks, then returned to the fold.

Zoabi briefly resigned from the coalition last month over what she called a rightward shift of the government, before being cajoled back in, reportedly with funding for hospitals in Nazareth.

Even if Ra’am gets on board with the settlement legislation, the coalition only holds 60 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — not enough to approve the measure if all opposition lawmakers vote against it.

Channel 13 reported Friday that Abbas was willing to support the law, but only if the coalition could guarantee success by getting Silman to support the bill, which would bring them to a 61-seat majority. A Thursday report said Silman plans to oppose the measure.

A senior coalition official criticized Ra’am for not supporting the bill on Friday.

“Their conduct is showing the Jewish public that it will not be possible in the future to establish a coalition with Arabs,” the official told Kan.

The settlement bill is being spearheaded by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has warned that the government’s future could depend on the passage of the technical but controversial bill.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party, speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill seeks to renew an emergency measure extending Israeli criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank. Though Israel has not annexed the West Bank, the measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal arrangements to Palestinians.

Originally enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, the law remains an “emergency measure” that must be renewed every five years. Last passed in 2017, it is set to expire at the end of June.

Sa’ar, whose right-wing party supports settlements and opposes Palestinian statehood, said Wednesday that unless the measure passes, Israeli settlers will become subject to Israel’s military justice system, which is based on Jordanian law. He said such a situation had never occurred in Israeli history, and warned of “chaos” in the West Bank if the bill fails.

While the Likud-led right-religious bloc within the opposition supports the renewal in principle, it has vowed not to vote with the coalition to pass it, having pledged to oppose any government-sponsored legislation regardless of content in its bid to bring down the government.

The Arab majority Joint List party, which is in the opposition but not aligned with the right-religious bloc, has also said it will oppose the measure.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a government conference at the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, on Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The latest coalition crisis comes as the government struggles to survive and the specter of new elections and a threat from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu loom larger.

Recent reports claimed Sa’ar has held talks with Netanyahu’s Likud party aimed at forming an alternative government in the Knesset. Sa’ar has repeatedly denied the talks.

According to a poll released last week, the opposition led by Netanyahu is gaining ground with voters, and inching closer to being able to win a majority in the Knesset.

The Channel 12 survey also found that most Israelis think the current government will collapse within six months, and that more Israelis support Netanyahu for prime minister than any other candidate.

Bennett released an unusual open letter to the Israeli public on Thursday, one year after his coalition formed, appealing for support to keep the teetering coalition on its feet for the sake of political stability and a properly functioning government. Much of Bennett’s message criticized Netanyahu and his allies and warned against their return to power.

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