Israel's political crisis is resolved, but governing remains a strain

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (second right) attend a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on May 22, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (NYTIMES) - Israel's latest government crisis was resolved Sunday (May 22), at least temporarily, when a lawmaker who quit the coalition late last week agreed to return to it, snatching back the tiny majority that its opposition held over the weekend.

The coalition, an ideologically diverse alliance of eight parties with clashing agendas, is now back to controlling 60 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, a position that allows it to hang on to power but that makes governing difficult.

Many Israelis believe that the days of this government - barely a year old and inherently unstable - remain numbered, despite the resolution of the crisis Sunday, and expect that Israel will be heading back to the polls in a matter of months for its fifth election in under four years.

The past few weeks have been particularly tumultuous for the government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose unusual coalition is made up of parties from the political right, left and centre and includes, for the first time, a small Islamist party.

Those partners came together mainly over a shared desire to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to break a political deadlock that had forced Israel into four elections in a row.

The lawmaker at the centre of the most recent disruption, Ms Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, a member of Israel's Palestinian minority from the left-wing party Meretz, resigned Thursday, saying the government was not committed to improving conditions for Arab citizens, who make up one-fifth of the country's population.

She pointed to Israel's recent interventions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a police assault on mourners at the funeral of a Palestinian journalist.

On Sunday, after days of intensive meetings and calls from politicians who begged her to resume her participation in, and obligations to, her party and the coalition, Ms Rinawie Zoabi said in a statement that she had reversed her decision "under massive pressure from the leaders of local Arab councils, who turned to me and who understood the significance of my resignation."

She said she did so in order to help her people and to avoid the possibility that the alternative to the Bennett government would be one in which an extreme rightist politician, Mr Itamar Ben-Gvir, would be the next minister overseeing the police force.

Her return to the coalition has probably averted a vote that was being planned for Wednesday for the dissolution of Parliament, since the opposition would now be unlikely to muster a majority.

Mr Netanyahu continued to undermine the government Sunday after Ms Rinawie Zoabi's turnaround, denouncing it as being "dependent on haters of Israel and supporters of terrorism," referring to its Arab members.

Mr Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, leads the opposition and is bent on a comeback, even while on trial on corruption charges.

The tumult of recent weeks has been bad even by Israeli standards and a far cry from Mr Bennett's promise to end years of political chaos and impasse.

Last month, another coalition member quit, saying the government's direction did not reflect the values of the right-wing voters who brought her party to power. The lawmaker, Ms Idit Silman, from Mr Bennett's Yamina party, said it was time to try to form a new "national, Jewish, Zionist" coalition with right-wing lawmakers.

Less than two weeks ago, the small Islamist party Raam agreed to rejoin the coalition a month after suspending its involvement in protest of police actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israeli commentators have called this the season of political extortion, with the teetering government at risk of collapse with each resignation or suspension and with the opposition intent on luring another defector to cross the lines.

Many do not expect the government to last beyond March, if it gets that far. If the government cannot muster a majority of 61 votes to pass a budget by the legal deadline that month, Parliament will automatically be dissolved, sending Israelis back to the ballot box next summer.

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