Shaky Israeli Coalition Is Jolted As Another Lawmaker Quits

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Another member of Israel's parliament said Thursday she was quitting the ruling coalition, leaving embattled Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in control of a crumbling minority government.

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi's announcement further whittles away Bennett's hold on Israel's 120-seat parliament, reducing the coalition to 59 seats. Two other legislators from his own party have already bolted.

Rinawie Zoabi’s departure further raises the possibility of new parliamentary elections, less than a year after the government took office. While Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now even more hamstrung in parliament and will likely struggle to function.

In a letter to Bennett, Rinawie Zoabi, who hails from the dovish Meretz party, said she was leaving the coalition because she said it too often adopted nationalist positions on issues of importance to her constituents, Palestinian citizens of Israel.

She cited Israel's conduct at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which in recent weeks has been the site of clashes between police and protesters, as well as continued settlement building and the beating by police of pallbearers at the funeral of a well-known Al Jazeera journalist shot while covering confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

“Enough. I cannot continue to support a coalition that in such a shameful way hounds the society from which I came,” she wrote.

Bennett, who leads a small, hard-line nationalist party, heads an unwieldy coalition of eight ideologically diverse factions — from dovish ones that support Palestinian statehood to nationalist parties and even, for the first time in Israeli history, an Islamist Arab party. They came together last June with little in common other than their drive to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who now heads the opposition.

As part of their union, the parties agreed to set aside divisive issues, like Palestinian statehood, and focus instead on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Despite the differences among the coalition, it has managed to pass a budget, navigate the pandemic and strengthen relations with both the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies.

But a wave of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, set off by several deadly Palestinian attacks against Israel and Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, and fueled by repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at Al-Aqsa, has shaken the coalition's stability. Mansour Abbas, the head of the Islamist party, briefly suspended his faction's membership in the coalition over the events, before rejoining shortly after.

Israel on Wednesday said it would allow a Jewish ultranationalist flag parade to snake through the heart of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, what is likely to further escalate tensions

Bennett's coalition recently lost its own whip, Idit Silman, who said her nationalist values were being challenged under the diverse grouping.

Bennett took steps following Silman's departure to shore up the coalition and punish defectors, but another deserter raises questions about the union's stability and how much longer it can hang on before crumbling entirely.

To topple the government, opposition lawmakers would need to secure 61 votes in favor of dissolving parliament or forming an alternate governing coalition.

Some opposition members appear to oppose new elections, and it seems unlikely for the time being that Netanyahu has enough support to bring the government down.