Analysis |

'Frozen' Party Deals Latest Blow to Israel's Coalition, Setting the Stage for Uphill Battle for Survival

Protest by the United Arab List over Israel's handling of Al-Aqsa tensions joins coalition whip's resignation. Bennett appears to have weathered the storm, but how long will it last?

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Mansur Abbas, MK and  head of United Arab List at the Knesset, last month.
Mansur Abbas, MK and head of United Arab List at the Knesset, last month.Credit: Emil Salman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

In 2000, Ehud Barak became prime minister in a minority government, after heading off to the Camp David Summit with the late Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

It was the Temple Mount (“this Vatican,” to quote the prophetic Moshe Dayan after the 1967 Six-Day War) and the provocative visit there by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon that sparked the second intifada and dragged the country into an election in which Barak’s defeat was a foregone conclusion.

At first glance, there are many similarities between Barak’s government and the current one, and between 2000 and 2022. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid lost their majority two weeks ago, when MK Idit Silman quit the coalition. And now, the Temple Mount has entered the game, with all the violence and the intense, extremist impulses it elicits from both sides, which don’t see eye to eye on anything except Allah, to the Muslims, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, to the Jews.

Bennett hopes that history doesn’t always repeat itself.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet at a press conference in Jerusalem, 2021.Credit: Emil Salman

Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues in the opposition are praying that it does, and they’ll do everything in their power to make it do so.

Agent of chaos and far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, with his migrating parliamentary office, which moves between the points of the greatest friction, is already posing a threat. It’s a wonder that Netanyahu hasn’t announced his desire to visit the mount.

The Temple Mount is boiling over, and the “region” – East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – hasn’t yet said its last word. The holy Muslim month of Ramadan lasts for another two weeks, and the Jewish holiday of Passover for almost another week. Then there’s Laylat al-Qadr, the Islamic calendar's Holiest eve, Israel's Independence Day and finally, Jerusalem Day, with its most dangerous, provocative and unnecessary cherry on top – The Flag March, where thousands of Israelis march in a controversial flag-waving procession, the ultimate finger in the eye for the Palestinians.

Flag March in Jerusalem in May, 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

This year, the United Arab List has also entered this never-ending song of death. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has been the model for the term “responsible adult” in recent days. The problem is that he isn’t a leader in the sense that Lapid is leader of his Yesh Atid party or Avigdor Lieberman of his Yisrael Beiteinu party. Abbas is more like Bennett and his Yamina party.

Abbas wants the current government to continue, knowing that any alternative would be worse. The Temple Mount wouldn’t have a more peaceful future under a governing coalition comprised of 61 right-wing MKs, with Ben-Givr as public security minister and his evil twin, Bezalel Smotrich, in some other sensitive ministry.

If these two were sitting in the security cabinet and Netanyahu, as prime minister, were dependent on their votes, then the security situation in East Jerusalem, Arab Israeli towns and, Gaza strip will be largely determined by their whims and racism.

Abbas has so far managed to steer his ship of many captains without a mutiny on board. But United Joint List MKs Mazen Ghanayim and Walid Taha have interests and ambitions of their own that aren’t identical to those of their party chairman.

Sunday’s decision by the United Arab List’s Shura Council – an advisory body of religious leaders – to “freeze” the party’s membership in the governing coalition and the Knesset until further notice was a kind of compromise. It’s an announcement that could be seen as dramatic, were the Knesset not at the height of its spring recess.

Ultimately, it reflects the fact that Abbas has managed to steer his ship on the course he wants despite everything.

Had the party wanted to quit the coalition, it would have done so without any delay.

Abbas’ coordination with Bennett and Lapid shows that they, too, understand that the UAL needs to let off steam. And hopefully, in their view, they will be satisfied with that.

The bottom line is that this weak coalition was dealt another blow on Sunday, this time by its Arab wing. Contrary to the popular saying, these blows don’t make it stronger; they weaken it.

Although surviving the Knesset’s summer session after the coalition whip's departure still seemed like an achievable goal, today, it looks like a steeper mountain to climb.

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