Another member of Israel’s parliament said on Thursday she was leaving the ruling coalition, leaving Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in charge of a crumbling minority government.
Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi’s announcement further reduces Bennett’s hold on Israel’s parliament by 120 seats, reducing the coalition to 59 seats. Two other lawmakers from his own party have already fled.
The departure of Rinawie Zoabi still raises the possibility of new legislative elections, less than a year after the government took office. While Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now even more crippled in parliament and will likely struggle to function.
In a letter to Bennett, Rinawie Zoabi, who hails from the pacifist Meretz party, said she was leaving the coalition because she said she too often took nationalist positions on issues important to her constituents, the citizens Palestinians from Israel.
She cited Israel’s conduct at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which in recent weeks has been the scene of clashes between police and protesters, as well as continued settlement building and beatings by pallbearers police at the funeral of a well-known Al Jazeera journalist. shot while covering clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians.
“Enough. I cannot continue to support a coalition that so shamefully harasses the society from which I come,” she wrote.
Bennett, who leads a small, hardline nationalist party, leads an unwieldy coalition of eight ideologically diverse factions – from pacifist factions that support the Palestinian state to nationalist parties and even, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab Islamist party. They met last June with little in common other than their desire to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who now leads the opposition.
As part of their union, the parties agreed to set aside divisive issues, such as the establishment of a Palestinian state, and instead focus on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Despite differences within the coalition, she managed to pass a budget, navigate the pandemic and strengthen relations with the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies.
But a wave of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, sparked by several deadly Palestinian attacks on Israel and Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, and fueled by repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Al-Aqsa, has shaken the coalition stability. Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist party, briefly suspended his faction’s membership in the coalition due to the events, before joining shortly afterwards.
Israel said Wednesday it would allow a parade of ultranationalist Jewish flags to weave through the heart of the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, which risks further escalating tensions.
Bennett’s coalition recently lost its own whip, Idit Silman, who said her nationalist values were being challenged by the diverse group.
Bennett took steps after Silman’s departure to shore up the coalition and punish defectors, but another defector raises questions about the union’s stability and how long it can hold before it completely crumbles.
To overthrow the government, opposition lawmakers would need 61 votes in favor of either dissolving parliament or forming an alternative government coalition.
Some opposition members appear to oppose new elections, and it seems unlikely at this time that Netanyahu will have enough support to bring down the government.