Working with Ra’am said among options for reconciling Meretz rebel with coalition

Newspaper says Mansour Abbas is trying to convince Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi to collaborate with Islamist faction in bid to harness government to work for Israeli Arabs

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is seen after an interview with Channel 12 news, at the network's studio in Neve Ilan, on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is seen after an interview with Channel 12 news, at the network's studio in Neve Ilan, on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am is trying to convince rebel Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi to work alongside the Islamist faction, according to a report Sunday, amid efforts to prevent the coalition’s breakup after she pulled her support for the government.

Rinawie Zoabi announced Thursday that she was quitting the coalition, reducing the government’s parliamentary support to a minority and pushing it toward possible collapse. While not ruling out supporting an opposition bill this week to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, she has at the same time given signals that she will not bring down the government.

After significant progress was reported in talks between the coalition and Rinawie Zoabi over the weekend, the Haaretz daily said the Arab Israeli lawmaker has several options if she wishes to resume her support for the government

One of them, of course, is staying with Meretz, but sources in the left-wing party said such a prospect seems unlikely, noting her frosty ties with its chief Nitzan Horowitz and her recent criticism of the party.

“Meretz has no influence or control over Rinawie Zoabi,” an unnamed senior coalition source told the newspaper.

According to the source, Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas — who visited Rinawie Zoabi at her home on Friday — is currently responsible for maintaining ties with her, and is urging her to join him and his Islamist party in a bid to harness the government to work for the good of the Arab community in Israel.

That option could allow her to remain in Meretz while working in coordination with Ra’am.

Ra’am party leader MK Mansour Abbas speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The report said Meretz would prefer that Rinawie Zoabi resign from the Knesset, which would let a party member who backs the coalition to fill her seat and enable Meretz to put the episode behind it. She has not ruled out such a possibility.

Another option that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid floated to Rinawie Zoabi is for her to serve as Israeli consul in Shanghai, a post she was tapped for earlier this year. Army Radio reported Sunday that the Civil Service Commission has begun reviewing her nomination, though Rinawie Zoabi’s spokesperson said Thursday that the MK had withdrawn her nomination for the post when she left the coalition.

Meanwhile, Meretz MK Yair Golan said he had spoken Saturday with Rinawie Zoabi and that he was optimistic about the ideologically divergent government’s prospects.

“Being in this government is difficult but it is not only a better alternative to a right-wing racist [Benjamin] Netanyahu government… it’s proof that it’s possible to do politics without fraud and corruption,” Golan declared in an interview with Army Radio, referring to the former prime minister who is now opposition leader.

He also said Rinawie Zoabi has a number of demands, and expressed optimism the matter was headed “in the right direction.”

Deputy Economy and Industry Minister Yair Golan, a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, poses during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

The comments came ahead of Rinawie Zoabi’s scheduled meetings Sunday with Horowitz and Lapid. In an interview Saturday, Horowitz said Meretz was “completely committed” to the government and vowed it won’t be responsible for the government’s fall.

Horowitz also said he believes Rinawie Zoabi wouldn’t vote for a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections. “She understands that… the alternative [to the government] is much worse,” he told Channel 12 news.

Rinawie Zoabi’s Meretz colleague, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, said Saturday she should resign from the Knesset if she is not prepared to follow the party’s agenda, rather than quitting the coalition but remaining in parliament as she has done.

On Friday, Rinawie Zoabi said she had not decided how she would vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset; the opposition Joint List has said it will introduce such a bill on Wednesday to disband parliament and call what would be Israel’s fifth elections in barely three years. She also said she may still cooperate with the ruling bloc, as “the alternative to the existing government is much worse.”

While her resignation leaves the coalition with just 59 MKs, and a preliminary reading of a bill to disperse the Knesset for new elections needs only a simple majority, such a bill would need an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs to clear its subsequent three readings, and it is not clear that the opposition could muster those 61 votes.

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