Islamist Party Braces for Divisive West Bank Vote in Latest Coalition Challenge

United Arab List undecided on whether to support coalition bill renewing regulations which apply Israeli law to citizens in West Bank, though sources say the party does not want to provoke a coalition crisis

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Mansour Abbas, Head of the United Arab List.
Mansour Abbas, Head of the United Arab List.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The United Arab List hasn't come to a decision yet on whether to vote in favor of the divisive bill to renew the regulation that makes Israeli citizens in the West Bank subject to Israeli law, the latest challenge for Israel's governing coalition.

A senior source in the party said the UAL leaders were still divided and would rather delay the vote to the end of the Knesset’s summer session.

“From our point of view, this law is no less important than the Citizenship Law,” said the source, referring to a law which bars Palestinians who marry Israeli nationals from obtaining residency status in Israel or citizenship.

The UAL, however, isn’t interested in provoking a coalition crisis that could lead to early elections. Over the last several days, party officials have remained quiet on the matter and have declined to make any public statements.

Sources from within the party said they would wait until the last minute to make a decision, as such postponement could encourage the opposition to reverse its position and support the bill. In such a situation, UAL could enjoy the best of both worlds: It would not prevent a bill backed by the governing coalition from passing – while also avoiding supporting a law that the party opposes.

“Without a doubt this is a very bad law that is extended every year automatically,” a party official told Haaretz. “Now we’re at a crossroads – the feeling in the coalition is that it’s on artificial respiration, but no one wants to stop the breathing and risking of being blamed for the collapse of the coalition.”

He said the right wing of the coalition wants either the UAL or the left-wing Meretz party to bring down the government, so they “need to act very cautiously,” he said.

The vote concerns a regulation empowers Israeli courts to try Israeli citizens who have committed crimes in the West Bank, and for Israeli authorities to prosecute and arrest West Bank residents. If it is not extended, after June, Israelis who commit crimes there will be brought before Israeli military courts and serve time there.

As the coalition gears up for the vote, reports emerged alleging that Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar was in talks with Likud and its chairman, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, about the prospect of forming a government together in the current Knesset session should the coalition collapse, which Sa'ar denied.

In addition, UAL lawmakers are also worried that Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, who quit and rejoined the coalition last month, will decide to vote against the law, or choose to absent herself from the vote. Such a decision would place UAL in a problematic position with the Arab community that they represent, and in such a case the party could not support the law, party officials said.

Rinawie Zoabi is still expecting the economic aid for Arab local governments that she was promised when she decided to return to the coalition after announcing she was leaving. No progress has been made on the matter and everything is being dragged out, said people involved in the talks Rinawie Zoabi conducted with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Minister Hamad Amar of Yisrael Beiteinu. The promises that appear in the economic plan to reduce inequality in the Arab community will be kept, but the rest of the promises will most likely be put off until the next state budget is passed, said the sources.

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