Islamist Party 'Freezes' Role in Israel's Ruling Coalition Over Al-Aqsa Tensions

The move by Mansour Abbas' United Arab List was coordinated with the leaders of the Israeli government, and meant to allow its supporters to 'let off steam,' but avoid actually quitting the ruling coalition

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Israel Police forces in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday.
Israel Police forces in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The United Arab List, an Islamist party that has faced some pressure to quit Israel's ruling coalition in the wake of clashes on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, decided on Thursday instead to freeze its membership in the coalition.

The United Arab List's Shura Council – an advisory body of religious leaders – met to agree on the measure, which sources say was coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The council's decision states that the United Arab List is no longer a member of the coalition and suspends all parliamentary activity.

The Knesset is in recess until May 8, and it is unclear what practical implications the United Arab List's move would actually have. Government sources say they view the move, at least at this point, as purely symbolic.

The council also called on the Joint List – a three-way majority-Arab party in the opposition – to "freeze" its Knesset membership, which Joint List officials called "ridiculous."

Israel Police forces at Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israeli lawmakers can't suspend their Knesset membership, only resign.

United Arab List chair Mansour Abbas has been in talks with both the Shura Council and coalition leaders ahead of the meeting.

Government sources said the move was primarily meant to let the party's supporters "let off steam," while maintaining the beleaguered coalition's integrity.

According to these officials, the Islamist party would stay out of the coalition for about two weeks, until the end of Ramadan, and then the Shura Council will reconvene to announce the party's return to government.

Earlier on Sunday, Sheikh Muhammad Salameh Hassan, a senior member of the Islamic Movement in Israel, called on the party to immediately abandon the coalition. "A government that attacks women and children and the elderly in the Al-Aqsa Mosque can go to hell," he said in a Facebook post. "We don't need to address anyone who talks about an alternative to that."

This followed Friday's statement from United Arab List lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim threatening to break from the coalition if the security forces' operations persisted at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Police forces entered the Temple Mount compound on Sunday in order to keep out Palestinians who gathered stones and put up improvised barriers in an effort to block Jewish visitors.

Palestinians threw stones at buses driving Jewish visitors to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, lightly wounding five passengers as clashes renewed at the contested site. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 17 were wounded in clashes near Lion's Gate in the Old City, and that five were taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, police are allowing Jews to enter the compound in groups, and dozens continue to wait at Mughrabi Gate in the Old City. The most recent reports said 728 Jewish visitors had entered the site Sunday.

This year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday are occurring at the same time, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the city. 

The Temple Mount, located in Jerusalem's Old City, is the third holiest in Islam and the holiest for Jews. It has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

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