Israel political crisis ends as rebel Palestinian lawmaker rejoins coalition

Israel political crisis ends as rebel Palestinian lawmaker rejoins coalition
Lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has rejoined Prime Minister Bennett's ruling coalition days after leaving it.
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Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi has rejoined Israel's ruling coalition days after she left [Getty]

A lawmaker who quit Israel's ruling coalition said on Sunday that she was returning to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's 60-member alliance, ending a crisis that lasted just a few days.

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, said on Thursday that she was quitting Bennett's coalition, leaving it with just 59 members in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. She cited the government’s hardline policies in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement construction that she said have alienated her constituents - fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel - and the recent killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces, as reasons for leaving. 

Two other legislators from Bennett's own party have already broken ranks and joined the opposition, headed by former leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Rinawie Zoabi's departure had raised the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after Bennett's broad coalition government took office.

But even with a 60-member coalition that's deadlocked with the opposition, passing legislation will remain difficult.

Recent tensions, fuelled by Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank and and repeated harassment of Muslim worshippers by Israeli police at at the holy Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, have shaken the coalition’s stability.

But on Sunday Rinawie Zoabi reversed course, saying that her main concern was securing “achievements for the needs of Arab society” in Israel, and preventing an ultranationalist extremist in the opposition from becoming the next minister in charge of police.

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She made the announcement of her return to the coalition’s ranks after meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who wrote on Twitter that the two had “an open and reasonable conversation about the real needs of Arab society” and put aside their disagreements.

As leader of a small nationalist party Bennett heads an unwieldy coalition of eight diverse parties — from dovish factions supporting Palestinian statehood to ultranationalists and, for the first time in Israel's history, an Islamist Arab party.

They joined forces in June after four consecutive deadlocked elections with the aim of ousting longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.

Despite its internal divisions, the union has managed to pass a budget, navigate the pandemic and strengthen relations with both the Biden administration and Israel’s newly publicised Arab allies.