Ra’am freezes its coalition and Knesset membership amid Temple Mount tensions

The Islamist Ra’am party on Sunday decided to temporarily freeze its membership in both the Knesset and the coalition amid mounting pressure in the wake of clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount.

The decision is largely declarative at this stage, because parliament is in recession, though opposition sources said they saw it as a further opportunity to weaken the coalition, encourage defects, and bring down the government.

According to sources quoted in Hebrew media Sunday, the measure — which will last for two weeks and is coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — is aimed to ease the pressure on the party, as well as prevent a permanent break with the government.

Ra’am denounced Israeli security forces over the violence at the Jerusalem holy site, and one of the Islamist party’s lawmakers threatened to quit the coalition. Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, however, has downplayed such a prospect and issued repeated calls for calm.

The decision on the temporary freeze was reached during a Sunday meeting of the Shura council of the Southern Islamic Movement — Ra’am’s umbrella organization — to address the violence at the Jerusalem holy site.

The council can make decisions regarding the party and also has the authority to order Knesset members to resign from the coalition.

Founded in the 1980s, the Islamic Movement has been thrust into the spotlight over the past year after Ra’am, which has four Knesset seats, joined the coalition government, the first Arab party to do so in decades.

Senior Islamic Movement officials gather in Kfar Qasim, on Saturday, January 22, 2022, to elect new leadership. (Courtesy: Islamic Movement)

The movement is informally divided between its more radical “northern” branch and the “southern” leadership, which is considered more moderate. Israel banned the northern branch for alleged terror ties in 2015.

In contrast to some of his firebrand predecessors, Abbas has adopted a pragmatic approach.

Earlier on Sunday, a senior religious figure in the Southern Islamic Movement called on Ra’am to bolt the coalition over the clashes.

The sources said that since the tensions surrounding the Temple Mount have risen as the Knesset is in the midst of its spring recess, Ra’am officials are hoping that by the time parliament reconvenes on May 9, the situation will calm down.

Israeli border police patrol near the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, as Palestinians wait to enter the Temple Mount compound, on April 17, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

However, some suggested that the opposition will use the freeze in Ra’am’s membership to intensify its efforts to topple the government.

Walid Taha, Chairman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And Ra’am MK Walid Taha said shortly before the decision was announced that the coalition was “apparently” headed for collapse. “We thought this government would behave differently,” he said, citing what he called “provocative” visits by Jews to Temple Mount as the cause of the latest violence. The government, he charged, “allowed a few hundred fascists” to stir up trouble.

The current government has been brought to the brink of collapse in recent days after MK Idit Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, quit the coalition, causing it to lose its razor-thin majority. The 120-member Knesset is now deadlocked, with both the coalition and opposition holding 60 seats apiece.

Some have suggested that the opposition’s Joint List, a majority-Arab party that is separate from Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition bloc, could help the coalition pass some votes and prevent its fall in a no-confidence vote. The party itself has issued conflicting messages on the matter.

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