Israeli lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from the left-wing Meretz party – a part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition – delivered her long-awaited response to her shock resignation that could potentially send Israel into a fifth election in three years.
Rinawie Zoabi, who spoke on Channel 12, said “there is no way back” from her move, which caught even her party head in surprise and heralded a fresh political crisis.
In her letter of resignation, Rinawie Zoabi’s said that the coalition leaders had chosen to take "hawkish, hard-line and right-wing positions," citing violence at the Temple Mount and the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
However, when asked how she would vote next week if the opposition moves to dissolve parliament, Rinawie Zoabi said she will “vote according to her conscience” and indicated she may support the coalition while not being a part of it.
Rinawie Zoabi's surprise resignation left Naftali Bennett's coalition with 59 of the Knesset's 120 seats, threatening the already wobbly government's future.
Rinawie Zoabi is still serving as a lawmaker in the Knesset.
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While Meretz and coalition members were surprised by Rinawie Zoabi's move, opposition lawmakers claimed they were aware of her intent to resign. Meretz leaders attempted to meet with Rinawie Zoabi Thursday after her announcement but were forced to postpone until tomorrow as she had a media interview scheduled.
Party chairman Nitzan Horowitz said in a tweet that, "Our coalition is important, and we are working to maintain it. The dissolution of the coalition will be a reward for Netanyahu and Ben Gvir" – referencing the former prime minister and a far-right member of the opposition – "and do great damage to society as a whole – Jews and Arabs."
"Meretz and I are committed to every effort to stabilize the government and ensure its continued existence. The differences in the government will be resolved in private," the tweet reads.
Rinawie Zoabi's 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.
Likud in search for another defector
Although the coalition has lost its majority, Likud prefers to continue looking for another defector from the coalition to ensure its demise.
Senior Likud officials have mulling whether they should wait and see if Rinawie Zoabi supports the dissolution of the Knesset, or whether to leverage the shock and look for another defector at this fragile juncture.
The Likud officials initially wanted to see if the government could be toppled without paying dearly for another defector, who would want a guaranteed spot and a senior post in a future government. But the prevailing thinking in Likud is that it’s unclear whether Rinawie Zoabi will indeed vote to overturn the government, and that further defections are unlikely for now.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett intended to convene his party faction and make sure there is no other defector, but this was canceled after Bennett talked to his colleagues by phone. He believes that the potentially troublesome Shaked-Orbach-Kara axis is currently on his side.
Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid has left the crisis in the hands of Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, just as he did when MK Idit Silman from Yamina quit, leaving Bennett to deal with the situation in his party. Lapid is expected to talk to Rinawie Zoabi when things become clearer.
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.