Israeli government at risk of collapse after MP quits

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi accuses coalition of fuelling tensions amid dramatic departure

Israel’s fragile government is in danger of collapse following Thursday’s dramatic decision by an Israeli-Arab parliamentarian to quit the coalition.

The parliamentarian, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, of the left-wing Meretz party, accused the government’s leaders of fuelling Israeli-Palestinian tensions and she condemned police violence at last weekend’s funeral of al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Her decision, described as a political bombshell, leaves the coalition with a minority 58 seats in the 120-member Knesset parliament.

The opposition now has 61 seats and Binyamin Netanyahu's opposition Likud has tabled a dissolution Bill, which is scheduled to be voted on next Wednesday. If the vote passes, Israel will be facing its fifth election in under four years.

Ms Zoabi said in a letter her reasons for her decision were ideological.

“Again and again the heads of the coalition have taken hawkish, rigid and right-wing stances regarding basic issues of utmost importance for Arab society,” she said. “I cannot continue supporting the existence of a coalition that harasses my community in this disgraceful manner.”

Right-wing politicians said this development was the last nail in the coffin of the government of prime minister Naftali Bennett which was sworn into power almost a year ago.

Comprising eight disparate parties from across the political spectrum, and including an Arab party for the first time in an Israeli government, the chances of survival for the wafer-thin coalition, which initially had a majority of just one, were never high.

Last month, the coalition lost its majority when a member of Mr Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party quit and joined the opposition.

However, following talks on Friday with foreign minister Yair Lapid, the co-ordinator of the left and centre parties in the coalition, Ms Zoabi said she would vote with her conscience and would not necessarily back an initiative to bring down the government.

‘The right thing’

Mr Lapid said it was too early to eulogise the current government.

“This government is the right thing for the state of Israel and the people of Israel,” he said. “We have no intention of surrendering or giving up on it. We have no intention of giving Bibi [Netanyahu] a chance to destroy the country. We will do what we do every time, sit with whom we need to sit, and fix what needs to be fixed.”

The political instability comes after a period of rising violence, with attacks inside Israel and the West Bank against Israeli civilians and troops and army raids to arrest Palestinian militants.

Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot to death while covering such a raid in Jenin. Palestinian officials, along with fellow journalists who were with her, have said Israeli troops stationed nearby killed her.

An Israeli army investigation concluded it was impossible to determine if soldiers or Palestinian gunmen were responsible.

On Thursday, the army said they had identified a rifle used by a soldier that could be linked to the fatal shooting but a ballistic examination of the bullet, which was extracted by Palestinian doctors, was required. The Palestinian side are refusing to co-operate, saying they do not trust Israel.

The Biden administration and the UN Security Council have called for a transparent investigation into the killing.