image Photo: Flash90

Bennett coalition averts crisis 

Israeli-Arab Member of Knesset (MK) Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi returned to the Israeli government after resigning last week.

By Erin Viner

The defection by the left-wing Meretz party MK had left the ruling coalition led by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with just 59 of the 120, raising the opposition a majority of 61 –  thereby threatening a no-confidence vote that would have brought down the government and necessitated early elections.

Bennett leads a diverse alliance of right-wing, centrist, of left-wing and Arab factions that took office in June last year, ending Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12 years as prime minister.

Zoabi’s reversal followed talks with Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier Yair Lapid, who said he and the MK had “held an open, candid and circumspect dialogue about the real needs of Arab society.”

Zoabi had cited ideological differences with the government for her resignation, including her opposition to security measures used to restore calm during the recent escalation in violence in Jerusalem and at the May 13 funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in a firefight between Palestinian terrorists and the IDF in the West Bank city of Jenin.

“I cannot keep supporting the existence of a coalition that shamefully harasses the society I came from,” wrote the Arab lawmaker in a letter published by local media.

Her return now restores the tenuous hold of power by the Bennett-Lapid coalition.

Israeli-Arabs make up 21% of the country’s population. Many in the predominantly Muslim community identify with the Palestinians.

The MK claimed in a statement that she reversed her decision in order to “make gains addressing the needs of the Arab community” and after several of its local leaders placed her “under immense pressure” to do so.

The current government suffered a previous stunning loss in April when Coalition Whip Idit Silman,  a lawmaker from Bennett’s own right-wing Yamina party, also quit the coalition on polar-opposite ‘ideological grounds’ from Zoabi – proclaiming she acted to preserve “the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.”

Silman’s withdrawal had left the Premier and his political partner Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier Yair Lapid in control of just 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

At the start of this week’s Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Bennett remarked that, “despite the upheaval that the coalition is undergoing, our government took the country from large-scale unemployment and a record deficit, from riots in the streets of Israel and thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, and brought the country to strong growth and determined dealing with external and domestic security.”

Expressing his view that, “if MKs from the left feel that the government is too right-wing, and MKs from the right feel that the government is too left-wing – this is a sign that the government is in a good place in the middle, a good government that gets things done and which lays aside ideological disagreements and simply looks after the people,” said Bennett, stressing that, “This is the meaning of compromise. This government is good for Israel and we are not giving up.”

He added that, “in order to overcome the pitfalls, we must put the good of the country ahead of narrow sectorial interests. We must all understand that nobody will be 100% satisfied. This is collective, not individual, work,” asserting his certainty “that if we all continue to show goodwill, the government will overcome any crisis.”