A drawn-out meeting of Ra’am party clerics into the early hours of Wednesday failed to provide a definitive answer on whether the faction plans to resume cooperation with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition, leaving survival of the Israeli government or the possibility of new elections hung in the balance for at least one more day.
Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas said there had been positive progress in talks over the party’s ending of its decision to suspend membership in Bennett’s governing alliance, but sources in the party signaled that the protest against Israel’s response to the unrest in Jerusalem was likely to remain in place.
The comments came after members of the Shura Council of Ra’am – the party’s Islamic governing body – met for seven hours in Kafr Qasim in central Israel to outline the party’s position, resigning just after midnight.
Abbas said the council would meet again on Wednesday morning to make a final decision on the matter. The party has scheduled a press conference in Kafr Qasim at 9:30 a.m.
“We discussed all the angles about it, everything is on the table,” Abbas said. “A summary will be formulated in the morning and the members of the Shura Council will vote on it.”
He added that there has been “positive progress with the coalition, but a final decision will be made tomorrow.”
The timing is critical, as Ra’am’s position could make or break a Likud-led bill to dissolve the Knesset that is expected to rise later Wednesday.
Bennett’s broad-based coalition has been in freefall in recent weeks, after coalition whip Idit Silman of his own nationalist Yamina party defected to the opposition, joining MK Amichai Chikli who previously jumped ship .
The departure left Bennett one vote behind and tied with the opposition 60-60. A few days later, Ra’am announced that he was temporarily withdrawing his four coalition members to express his anger at Israeli police activity at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in response to Palestinian rioters. , crippling the coalition for as long as the suspension lasts.
The opposition measure needs the support of at least 61 MKs in three successive votes to effectively dissolve the Knesset. However, the vote scheduled for Wednesday would be a preliminary measure, meaning only a simple majority is needed for it to move forward.
The Joint List, which is part of the opposition but not aligned with it, said on Tuesday it would back Likud’s efforts to dissolve the Knesset, giving Netanyahu’s bid the potential backing of 59 lawmakers against Bennett’s 56, if all Ra’am forbearance.
Reports say coalition officials fear an early victory in the preliminary vote could give the opposition enough tailwind to garner support from other potential defectors, putting it above the 61 MP threshold needed to pass a measure calling for new elections in subsequent votes.
Despite the danger to the coalition’s grip on power, a Shura Council source said the panel was likely to recommend the freeze be maintained.
“In this case, we will let the party members themselves decide whether or not to participate in the vote on the fall of the government,” the source told Ynet.
MP Ra’am Mazen Ghanaim is expected to abstain regardless of the council’s decision, but if the other three faction MPs vote to save the coalition, it would create a 59-59 tie, with Silman the deciding vote.
If she triggered the crisis with her departure, the maverick MP also left open the possibility of a return to the coalition.
Ahead of the vote, Abbas said the party’s guiding principle would be the interests of the Arab community in Israel, rather than a personal or partisan consideration.
The veteran politician made history a year ago leading his faction in Bennett’s coalition, adding the Islamist party to his litany of strange bedfellows that already included dovish leftists alongside hardline nationalists. Abbas defended the move as a necessary step to secure benefits for the Arab community, but faced intense internal pressure to move to the opposition as those goals largely failed to materialize.
The coalition’s acting chairman, Boaz Toporovsky, said earlier on Tuesday that the crisis posed a “real threat” to the coalition.
“The disagreements with Ra’am are not about the Temple Mount, but about the fact that they don’t see enough results when it comes to the Arab citizens of Israel,” he told the radio. military.
Bennett also faced internal pressure over including Ra’am in his coalition, which Likud seized on by portraying the government as hostage to “supporters of terrorism.” Attempts to withdraw support from the right, particularly the prime minister’s own Yamina faction, have not been deterred by the fact that Likud also negotiated with Ra’am over a possible partnership during coalition talks there. a year ago.
“The fact that the future of the current government depends on the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood is another historical low that Bennett has dragged us towards,” a Likud spokesperson said in a statement released at Tuesday night’s summit. . “A government dependent on supporters of terrorism cannot fight terrorism.”
Abbas hit back, noting that “Netanyahu also waited for votes from the Shura Council as he discussed with us the formation of a government, and met me four times at his Balfour Street residence.”
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Likud officials have continued to pressure Ra’am members to abstain, even as the government struggles to meet some of the demands made by the party when he froze his membership in the coalition.
The station also reported that Abbas fumed at Foreign Minister Yair Lapid when he called to inquire about the party’s plans for the vote, saying it was up to the council and not him.
A Channel 12 news report claimed Ra’am’s council would decide to cut off communications with Bennett and use Lapid, who is set to rotate the premiership with Bennett next year, as a go-between instead, out of frustration with the Prime Minister’s statements about Israel. policies in Jerusalem.
Asked by Channel 13 if he was in talks with Bennett, Abbas replied: “I’m still talking to Bennett.”
“Ra’am is convinced that he is doing what is necessary for the Arab sector first and foremost and to advance the issues he represents,” he added. “We are aware that the coalition has parties with many different considerations. What interests us is us.