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Ra’am’s advisory council to meet amid growing pressure to quit coalition

Amid escalating tensions, notably regarding the Temple Mount, calls are mounting for Mansour Abbas’s party to make its current temporary suspension from coalition permanent

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

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas during a Knesset vote on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas during a Knesset vote on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Clashes over the Temple Mount are again threatening the stability of Israel’s fragile coalition, with the Islamic Arab Ra’am party facing increased pressure from its umbrella religious organization, the Southern Islamic Movement, over its tenuous coalition membership, party officials said Thursday evening.

Ra’am officials said that the Southern Islamic Movement’s Shura Council, an advisory body to Ra’am, is preparing to meet soon to discuss the latest developments on the Temple Mount, following Thursday’s first permitted Jewish visits to the flashpoint holy site in two weeks and subsequent Palestinian rioting earlier in the day.

The officials were speaking before Thursday night’s deadly terrorist attack in Elad.

Police arrested 21 suspects that took part in the morning clashes.

Ra’am is currently on a “freeze” with the coalition, following spiraling tensions on the Temple Mount during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

“This evening there are heated discussions over whether to put an end to all this enormous pressure,” said Salih Ryan, the Ra’am mayor of the northern Israel village of Kabul, told The Times of Israel.

“If things develop that are difficult in the context of being an Arab party in the coalition, then it will be necessary to disband the government,” said Ryan, adding that: “What happened today is very disappointing and stressful for the Shura Council.”

Ra’am party leader MK Mansour Abbas is abroad and those in the movement pushing to leave the coalition are taking advantage of his absence to renew their efforts, according to a report from Channel 12 News.

Those against a full exit are working to prevent the council from calling for such a move. They instead want to wait until a day before the Knesset returns from its current break on May 9, then make a more considered decision on what to do, the station said without citing sources.

Abbas said told Channel 12 News in a response to the station’s report that all Ra’am members are committed to decisions made by the Shura Council and that “we will immediately implement any decision that will be made.”

He noted that the party’s freeze on involvement in the government and Knesset was still in place and ” will not change as long as a new decision is not made by the Shura on the matter.”

The coalition currently only has 60 seats in parliament — exactly half of the Knesset total of 120. If Ra’am pulls out its four seats, the government will find itself with a minority.

Known as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex to Muslims, the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest. In line with the current status quo, Muslims can visit and pray at the site, but non-Muslims may only visit.

Israeli police accompany a group of Jews touring the Temple Mount on May 5, 2022, as the Jerusalem holy site was reopened to non-Muslim visitors. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

In recent weeks, it has been a flashpoint for conflict, with Palestinian riots, clashes with the Israel Police, and extremist Jewish attempts to pray on the Temple Mount. Tensions on the holy site have reverberated into tensions with Israel’s Muslim allies, threats from Hamas, and exacerbation of the ongoing coalition crisis.

“We are not part of the coalition, the freeze decision stands. I cannot say about going forward, touchpoints will determine it,” MK Walid Taha told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Last week, Ra’am Mazen Ghanaim said that whether or not Ra’am returns to the coalition, he personally would not feel obligated to the government should issues surrounding Al-Aqsa not be resolved.

Ra’am’s leader Mansour Abbas made a revolutionary gamble when he hitched his party to the Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid-led government, which marked the first time that an all-Arab party joined an Israeli coalition as an essential component. In this move, Abbas gambled that he would advance Arab civil goals, in exchange for placing Palestinian national interests on the political sidelines. His critics say that nearly a year in, Abbas has yet to show tangible results. Abbas’s camp says that his approach is a process which requires time.

This fundamental split exists within Ra’am, within the Southern Islamic Movement, and within the Shura Council that guides them. Some support Abbas’ vision, others think it’s a mistake.

“All that Ra’am does inside the current government ignores the presence of religion. Ra’am’s not raising the level of Islam inside of Israel, that’s not its agenda. Ra’am talks about the Arab civil side, not about the Muslim side inside Israel,” said Ehab Jabareen, an Arab political analyst.

Ehab Jabareen, political analyst. (Courtesy)

“The fanatics inside the Islamic Movement, and there are a lot, feel sidelined…Especially when Al-Aqsa is not the issue. With Al-Aqsa, being present inside a government that behaves like this, it really pushes them to the extreme. They don’t have an explanation and they feel they have to do something,” he said.

Jabareen also pointed to Arab-language media reports that some movement members have “frozen their membership in the Islamic Movement in the last few days,” which he thinks is because “they know that average civilian will judge them on civil issues,” which is what Ra’am has explicitly focused on, but has yet to deliver to the Arab street’s satisfaction.

“They’re understanding that they haven’t really achieved civil results, so if we don’t get those results, we need to preserve our religious standing,” he explained, adding that: “They don’t want to be members until Ra’am leaves this government.”

Jabareen estimated that while “Abbas’s side is still strong,” it was losing ground.

Ra’am Party leader MK Mansour Abbas attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“They’re not saying it’s time to swap him out yet, but the fact that people are coming out against Abbas, it’s clear that the side against him is growing,” said Jabareen.

Earlier on Thursday, a number of Jewish visited the Temple Mount as part of Israel’s Independence Day. A video circulated of Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon speaking about how he pressured Bennett to permit the visits, and fellow party member Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked posted on Facebook that, “Jews are on the Temple Mount on Independence Day after breaking an all-time record in the number of visitors to the Mount of the Year,” as part of a list of causes for celebration.

MK Nir Orbach of Shaked’s Yamina party on Wednesday also posted to social media about efforts to ensure the mount was open to Jews on Independence Day.

On Sunday, Abbas reportedly met with Bennett for the first time since Ra’am took its coalition time out.

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