The United Arab List (UAL) party, also known by the Hebrew name Ra’am, has suspended participation in the coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, blaming days of violence at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for its decision.
The party, whose supporters are mostly drawn from Palestinian citizens of Israel, a minority who make up about 21 percent of the approximately nine million population, is led by Mansour Abbas and was the first party representing Palestinian citizens to join an Israeli government.
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Bennett took office last June after painstaking efforts to cobble together a coalition government that was able to topple Israel’s longest serving premier Benjamin Netanyahu. He did so by creating a razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
But Bennett’s government lost that majority earlier this month when a far-right Knesset member quit over a government decision to authorise the distribution of leavened bread in hospitals during Passover, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling reversing years of banning the practice.
Bennett’s coalition – a mix of left-wing, hardline Jewish nationalist and religious parties, as well as the UAL – has deep ideological divides and now has only 60 seats in parliament – the same as the opposition.
On Sunday evening, the UAL – which has four seats in Bennett’s coalition – said it was “suspending” its support and freezing its parliamentary activities.
“If the government continues its steps against the people of Jerusalem … we will resign as a bloc,” the UAL said in a statement.
The announcement comes two days after Israeli forces raided Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, resulting in at least 150 people being wounded and scores of arrests.
The UAL’s withdrawal from Bennett’s administration will not immediately affect the government, as the Knesset is in recess until May 8.
Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz said the UAL measure was coordinated with Bennett and foreign minister Yair Lapid and was designed to allow UAL supporters to “let off steam”, but avoid actually quitting the ruling coalition.
Some political commentators said the announcement was a symbolic gesture to take pressure off UAL party leaders during the crisis, and the dispute could be resolved by the time parliament reconvenes next month.
The UAL’s Shura Council – an advisory body of religious leaders – is expected to reconvene in two weeks’ time, after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Sources say that Bennett will now seek to calm the situation with the UAL, and though his coalition can rule with 60 seats it will have difficulty in passing new legislation.
If another member leaves the government coalition, the Knesset could call to hold a vote of no confidence, which could lead Israel back to the polls for a fifth parliamentary election in four years.