Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi's resignation from the coalition rattled Israeli politics in a move interpreted as another nail in the government’s coffin.
She said she was resigning for ideological reasons, among them the events of Ramadan and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and her perception that the coalition leaders were only serving the interests of the government’s right wing.
Rinawie Zoabi made the news a few months ago when she opposed the army draft law. The crisis ended with the announcement of the intention to appoint her consul general in Shanghai. Many of the issues she listed as reasons for her resignation were valid even then, but she chose to exercise restraint.
She vehemently defended her decision to serve in a diplomatic position and become a part of the Israeli PR efforts under the Bennett government, rejecting claims she was being opportunistic. She insisted she was looking out for the Arab public's best interest, even if it meant a consul general appointment in faraway China.
Rinawie Zoabi made a similar move now, but with a more dangerous effect: because of the coalition’s fragility, her decision impacts both the party that recruited her as reinforcement and its apparent partner on the left, the United Arab List.
On the face of it, she seems to be posing a challenge to ideologues in her party like Mossi Raz, Gaby Lasky and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige, as well as to UAL, on nationalist and religious issues like al-Aqsa, the occupation and the settlement enterprise. She did what they didn’t dare do.
In practice, Meretz, UAL and even Joint List members aren’t buying this claim. From their angle, Rinawie Zoabi was never perceived as a nuisance or someone to be taken seriously that is liable to shake things up. Perhaps this perception, even if it were arrogant, explains why the diplomatic appointment was handled sluggishly.
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Rinawie Zoabi recognized that the coalition was sinking and that as long as her appointment wasn’t a done deal, she’d be better off abandoning ship and selling her move as concern for the Arab public, mixed with the Palestinian national element and al-Aqsa.
Note that she has no constituents lobbying her; she didn't run in Meretz primaries and is certainly no subordinate to any religious or party institutions. She is beholden mainly to herself, her family and a small circle of close associates.
The real reasons for her sudden ideological backbone will be revealed later, but her motivations are less interesting to the political realm right now. At this stage, the main question is how far she will go to take down the government – either by no-confidence vote or by dissolving the Knesset – and how much she will contribute directly or indirectly to Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.
These issues won't be determined today or even next week. Meanwhile, pressure will intensify, affecting her considerations. In the end, Rinawie Zoabi backed herself into a corner. She effectively has ended her political journey in the Knesset, and as long as she doesn’t secure a senior role in the civil service, it is not in her interest to dismantle the government, but rather to extend its lifespan.
Rinawie Zoabi is perceived in Arab political circles as an activist who flourished in leftist civil society organizations and in Jewish-Arab groups. Her move will close many doors in Israel and abroad, limiting her tool kit.
In such circumstances, if she doesn’t intend to retire at home, and still aspires to remain in the political and public landscape, then Meretz and the coalition have an opportunity to survive. However, even they acknowledge that they are living on borrowed time.