Violence, internal differences put Israeli government on edge

By Sara Gómez Armas

Jerusalem, May 9 (EFE).- Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, returned from an almost two-month recess on Monday with the coalition government weathering its biggest political storm to date after it lost its parliamentary majority amid severe internal discrepancies and an increase in violence with the Palestinians.

During the hiatus, 18 Israelis have died in six attacks committed by Palestinians or Arab-Israelis, while there were violent clashes on the Esplanade of the Mosques during Ramadan, ratcheting up tensions and sparking protests among the most radical sectors of the political spectrum.

Raam, the Arab Islamist party which contributes four deputies to the governing coalition, announced three weeks ago that it was suspending its participation in the government under pressure from its electorate following the violent clashes on the second Friday of Ramadan, which left 150 Palestinians wounded and more than 400 arrested.

Several of Raam’s deputies believe they should not remain in a government that does not respect the status quo in the compound – Israeli police entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque, angering Palestinians and the wider Arab world – although its leader, Mansur Abbas, does seem willing to keep the coalition afloat.

“We want to see political achievements and strengthen the political position of our Arab society, so we have been very patient within the coalition,” Abbas said this weekend in an interview with a Saudi newspaper, aware that his constituency has more to gain inside the government than outside.

Divided and conditioned by the Islamist movement to which the party is attached, Raam’s leaders are scheduled to meet on Friday to decide whether to leave or return to the coalition. If they decide to leave, the government would be left in a clear minority in parliament, unable to govern.

“I think we will make it until the restart of the political session, and then you will have to ask me again,” foreign minister and next rotating prime minister, Yair Lapid, told Efe a few days after Raam suspended its role in the government, a survival period that expires Monday, after which Israel will once again be plunged into the quicksand of political uncertainty.

The government lost its majority on April 6, when the deputy Idit Silman, of the nationalist party Yamina – that of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet – distanced herself from the government, so that any legislative struggle in the Knesset is now a technical tie between the government side and the opposition, forcing the coalition to seek allies in other parties in order to pass laws.

The risk of defections within the government comes not only from the Arab side, but also from the far right.

Silman is trying to convince two other Yamina MPs, Abir Kara and Nir Orbach, to follow in his footsteps. They are apparently unhappy that the coalition is not advancing legislation that would satisfy their voters, the majority of whom are settlers.

The right wing that makes up the opposition – led by the Likud of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together with ultra-Orthodox parties – is also mobilizing to topple the government and is expected to bring a motion of confidence to the Knesset Monday, although it is unlikely to succeed.

“The government has lost its majority in the Knesset, it has no legitimacy”, the opposition said in a joint statement Sunday at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, where they pledged to undertake “a determined and unified struggle” against the Benet-Lapid Executive.

The Israeli press reports that the opposition also plans to present on Wednesday a bill to overthrow the government, although for it to be effective it would have to be approved in three readings in future parliamentary sessions.

A bill to dissolve the Knesset requires 61 votes – meaning the opposition would also need to secure another defector from the coalition – has not yet been presented despite persistent attempts.

The political crisis comes amid a wave of violence in the country, with six attacks and 18 deaths in Israel since the end of March – in addition to some 30 Palestinians in raids and other “counter-terrorism” operations – which the opposition is also using to sell the image of a weak government. EFE


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