Opposition Celebrates as Coalition on Brink of Collapse

By Yisrael Price

Leader of the Opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – Opposition parties were jubilant on Thursday over the resignation of Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from the coalition, reducing Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s fragile government to a 59-61 minority, while some of her colleagues expressed hope she could be persuaded to reconsider.

Senior Likud MK Yariv Levin said the “failed government” of Bennett and his partner Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “has turned into a minority government. Now it’s clear the government has lost its right to exist.”

Likud MK May Golan tweeted: “The first Israeli-Palestinian government is on its way to the trash heap of history.”

As the news broke on Lag BaOmer, Shas party leader tweeted that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s “merits will help us remove an evil government from the land.”

Idit Silman, who was the coalition whip until her own resignation last month left the government at a 60-60 split, posted a quote from Megillas Esther: “Deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.” Silman’s own departure didn’t bring down the coalition, but the Meretz MK could be the “another place” to do so.

In his first public comment on Zoabi’s surprise decision, Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz Party wrote on Twitter that “the dissolution of the coalition would be a prize to [Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [cause] great damage to all of society — Jews and Arabs,”

Reports by Haaretz and the Kan public broadcaster quoted sources saying Zoabi has indicated that she does not intend to help bring down the now-minority government. Opposition no-confidence motions last week failed to pass in a Knesset vote, but Zoabi’s support could change that.

Coalition members, including those within her own party, reportedly had no warning of her decision. It was reminiscent of Silman’s resignation, which came as a shock as well.

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke optimistically of the coalition.

“I’m not claiming for a moment that the government doesn’t have problems, but it works, and it works great,” he said. “And it will continue to work and do good things for the State of Israel as long as the parties that make up the coalition act responsibly.”

Some were clinging to the hope of changing Zoabi’s mind. “We need to learn what happened, talk to her, and I hope we can straighten things out. I think we can find solutions,” said fellow Meretz MK Mossi Raz.

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh of the opposition welcomed the news.

“Most of the public wants [Arab-Jewish] partnership. But for that to happen, the sane majority must separate from the extreme right,” Odeh said. “We won’t be second-class partners.”

Earlier in the day, Zoabi sent a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett notifying him of her plans to leave the coalition, and that she will not be serving as consul-general to Shanghai, a post for which she had been designated.

“I entered politics because I saw myself as an emissary of Arab society, which I represent,” Zoabi wrote. “Unfortunately over the last few months for narrow political reasons, the heads of the coalition preferred to strengthen their right side. Again and again, the heads of the coalition preferred to take harsh right-wing steps on key issues related to Arab society.”

She cited the Al Aqsa, Har HaBayis, Sheikh Jarrah, settlements, house demolitions, the Citizenship Law and land confiscations in the Negev.

“When it came to the needs of Arab society and communities, housing, employment and education, they were indifferent,” said Zoabi.

Zoabi’s departure will give the opposition a majority of 61 to 59 MKs and could bring about an election in the fall and as early as mid-September. Bennett, Lapid and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz were said to have all been taken by surprise by Zoabi’s decision.

Bennett’s coalition has been unstable since Yamina MK Idit Silman defected to the opposition in April, taking away the government’s slim majority and bringing Bennett’s presence in the coalition to only five seats, unprecedented for an Israeli prime minister.

Based on the coalition agreement between Bennett and Lapid, if Zoabi’s defection to the opposition brings about new elections, Bennett will remain Israel’s interim prime minister. If the government were to fall due to a move by a member of the government’s right-wing bloc, Lapid would have taken over as the interim prime minister.

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