Photo Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton / Flash 90
MK Mansour Abbas, chairperson of the Ra'am party.

The hodge-podge coalition government led by Yamina party chair and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has caved in response to a threat by the Islamist Ra’am party, a coalition member, and held a vote late Sunday afternoon on the issue of moving the Bedouin Authority to the Social Services / Welfare Ministry.

Ra’am party Knesset member Walid Taha told reporters Sunday that the four MKs in his party – headed by Deputy Minister Mansour Abbas – “will not take part in committee meetings, nor will it vote in the plenum for legislation passed by the cabinet, until further notice.”

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Taha threatened to release Ra’am MKs from “party discipline” if the Bedouin Authority is not “immediately” reassigned to the auspices of the Ministry of Welfare, thus removing it from the Office of the Prime Minister.

Coalition ministers therefore voted by phone late Sunday afternoon to move the government agency that assists the Bedouin sector to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, according to Israel’s Channel 13 News.

Regavim Warns of Islamic Movement ‘Blackmail’
The original coalition deal with Ra’am had called for the matter to be placed on the agenda several weeks from this point. However, the vote was moved up in response to the party’s demands and its vow to boycott Knesset committee sessions and plenum votes until further notice.

The ultimatum has drawn the attention of the Regavim Movement, a watchdog organization that monitors issues involving land grabs by the Palestinian Authority.

“The extortionist demand that the Israeli government must dance to Ra’am’s tune endangers the Negev and the entire State of Israel,” Regavim Director General Meir Deutsch said in a statement.

“It is inconceivable that the government’s policy in the Negev, which is at a crucial juncture, will be dictated by the Islamic Movement blackmail,” Deutsch said.

It would seem the sentiments are mutual, at least on some counts.

Ra’am: Will Topple Govt if Israel ‘Hits Gaza’
“There is no love lost between Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas and the new government,” Ra’am party MK Mazen Ghainem told reporter Amit Segal on Sunday during an interview on Radio Mekan.

Ghainem said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Yamina party, and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party and currently head of the Knesset Opposition, “are both bad.”

Although Ghainem said that he abstained during a recent vote on Israel’s Citizenship Law amendment – which would bar Palestinian Authority citizens from gaining Israeli citizenship or permanent residency through marriage with Israeli Arabs – he threatened to topple the new government if Israel “hits Gaza.”

Ghanaim told Kan Radio in a separate interview, “There are red lines. Gaza, Lebanon, and Muslim and Christian holy sites are red lines.”

Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster quoted a source who said Ra’am also will not allow the coalition to hold talks with the Joint Arab List, an Israeli Arab faction from which the Islamist Ra’am withdrew its party last year. The two sides are now bitter rivals.

Mansour Abbas is the leader of the southern Islamic Movement in Israel, and is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Cairo-based, outlawed terrorist organization that spawned Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist group.

The problems with Ra’am are clearly weakening the new Bennett-led government.

Bennett Gets Tangled in Arab Political Infighting
In an attempt to broaden his base and ensure a safety net incase the Ra’am party decides to bolt, Bennett approached the Joint Arab List hoping at the least to cut a deal for the budget vote in November.

Without a win on that one, Bennett and partners will be forced to give up their dream of controlling the government because if the budget fails to pass, the government is forced to disband and return again to elections.

This would be a fifth round for Israelis casting their ballots, in less than three years.

Abbas offered to take his party and depart the coalition for a two week trial run in order to allow Bennett to see whether the Joint Arab List is really an option, said Ra’am officials.

“Don’t count on having any Likud members switch sides to replace us,” they said, a reference to four Likud members who are currently rumored to be considering an escape from opposition status.

Coalition Appears Weak
On Sunday, a vote on new coronavirus regulations was postponed because the coalition lacked a majority in the plenum. The regulations were to include a ban on travel abroad to countries on a “red list” in addition to mandatory quarantine for those who arrive from “orange” countries.

“MKs Ohana, Rothman and Maklev submit their opposition to enabling the continuation of a travel ban on Israelis seeking to leave the country,” the Netanyahu-led Likud said in a statement.

The party explained it would not support the ban “given the Health Ministry said Israel is the only country in the world currently attempting to impose such restrictions on its citizens.”

The statement added that such a move is “not reasonable to impose. . .given that Israel is the most vaccinated nation in the world.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.