May 11, 2022 - World

Israeli PM's coalition hangs on as Ra'am announces return

Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas on June 13, 2021. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images
Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas on June 13, 2021. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

Israel's fragile coalition got a bit more stable on Wednesday when the Islamist Ra'am party announced it would return to the fold.

Why it matters: The opposition had tabled a bill to move toward new elections, but withdrew it after the announcement from Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas, which confirmed the bill lacked the votes to pass.

The backstory: Ra'am, formally known as the United Arab List, suspended its membership in the coalition in mid-April over the incidents at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound between Israeli police and Palestinians.

  • The move was symbolic at the time because the Knesset was out of session, but as parliament returned on Monday, the coalition still hadn't reached an agreement with Abbas, who was facing pressure from within his party to make the suspension permanent.

Behind the scenes: In recent days, there were low-profile negotiations between Abbas and other senior members of the coalition, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

  • Ra'am party leadership met for six hours on Tuesday night and was expected to announce its decision on Wednesday morning.
  • But shortly before the press conference was to take place, news emerged that Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
  • Abbas canceled the press conference and issued a strong statement condemning the killing and calling for an international investigation.
  • Several hours later, Abbas and members of his party announced their return to the coalition in brief remarks at the Knesset.

What he's saying: "We are engaged in a political partnership that aims at giving solutions to the problems of the Arab citizens of Israel. Therefore, we decided to give the coalition another chance," Abbas said at the Knesset.

  • He attacked opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for claiming Ra'am members support terrorism, and he said opting for new elections would only bring Netanyahu back to power.
  • Abbas also said he had recorded Netanyahu last year as Netanyahu made the case for a coalition between his Likud party and Ra'am, and warned, "I might have to release some of it."

Between the lines: Abbas had another reason to rejoin the coalition — polls currently suggest his party might fail to reach the electoral threshold if an election is held.

What’s next: Abbas’ decision stabilizes the coalition, but it still lacks a majority.

  • And while Abbas overcame internal opposition to rejoining the coalition this time, it's unclear whether he will do so again if another crisis erupts around the Al-Aqsa Mosque or in the West Bank and Gaza.
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