Israeli Gov't in Crisis After Lawmaker's Shock Resignation; Bennett Coalition Becomes Minority

'The sights from Temple Mount, Abu Akleh's funeral led me to a moral decision,' Israeli lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi writes in her resignation letter

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.Credit: Abir Sultan/AP, Gil Eliyahu, Hadas Parush

Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi announced on Thursday that she is quitting Israel's ruling government, leaving the coalition with 59 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

In her resignation letter, Rinawie Zoabi wrote that she had joined the coalition in hopes that Arabs and Jews working together might help bring about "a new path of equality and respect," but that coalition leaders had chosen to take "hawkish, hard-line and right-wing positions."

In the letter, Rinawie Zoabi cited violence at the Temple Mount and the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as leading her to make "a moral decision."

Rinawie Zoabi, however, is still serving as a lawmaker in the Knesset. It is still not clear if she intends to vote with the opposition in future votes.

Her departure could significantly damage the government's ability to function. Regardless of how she votes in the future, it's doubtful that her exit will pave the way for opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to successfully pass a vote of no-confidence and form his own coalition – as there are not enough opposition members in support of a Netanyahu-led government. However, if the Knesset votes on dissolving the Knesset, Rinawie Zoabi's vote could be the deciding vote that sends the country to an election.

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi.Credit: Knesset spokesperson

In January, Rinawie Zoabi voted against a government-sponsored bill on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students in protest of the coalition’s advancement of a bill restricting family unification for Palestinians married to Israelis and of the Jewish National Fund’s tree-planting in the Negev. As a result, the vote was tied, which means the bill didn’t pass (though it did pass when it was brought up for a vote again two weeks later).

Earlier this month, associates of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said there was an 80 percent chance that the government would only last another month.

In April, coalition whip Idit Silman abruptly resigned from the coalition, leaving it with 60 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset. In a resignation letter to Bennett, Silman said that some coalition partners were "unwilling to make compromises."

Last month, a Knesset committee approved Bennett's request to declare his Yamina party colleague Amichai Chikli a defector, blocking him from joining another existing party in the next election and sending a strong warning to other potential deserters from Bennett's fraying coalition.

In February, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that Rinawie Zoabi would be appointed Israel’s consul-general in Shanghai, in what political sources said was an attempt to oust her in an effort to stabilize the coalition.

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