Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition faced a new threat on Tuesday, when Ra’am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas warned that his faction’s four votes cannot be counted on, due to a dispute over trees planted on disputed land.
Ra’am and Joint List MKs have been protesting tree planting in the Negev, claiming the saplings were planted on the property of the al-Atrash family, not state land. Support for Ra’am is especially strong in the Negev.
“I cannot continue living with this,” Abbas said. “I have accepted things that may have seemed worse, but when they shoot directly at your chest, you cannot survive. The Negev is Ra’am. I demand to stop the planting and expedite an arrangement in three or four places. We won’t vote with the coalition, until this is solved.”
Alternate prime minister Yair Lapid said late Tuesday night that the planting could be temporarily halted to calm down the situation. He said the Likud took such a step two years ago.
But Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu responded that "no one can stop planting trees in the land of Israel" and it is up to Bennett to "stop incitement from his coalition partner, Ra'am."
The coalition has already withdrawn voting on key legislation this week, including the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft bill, due to the large number of MKs diagnosed with the coronavirus. But the opposition has not withdrawn its bills set for Wednesday, including an expensive bill sponsored by Joint List head Ayman Odeh that would raise monthly old-age pension payments from NIS 1,600 to NIS 3,500.
Without the support of Ra’am, the coalition would lose its majority to block the opposition’s legislation. Odeh’s bill and other private member’s legislation could end up passing. But the coalition may end up having an advantage anyway, because more opposition than coalition MKs have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Among the MKs who have tested positive in recent days are Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Michael Biton ((Blue and White), Emilie Moatti (Labor) and Yomtob Kalfon (Yamina) of the coalition and Haim Katz (Likud), Ofir Katz (Likud), Eti Atiah (Likud), Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas), Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) and Osama Saadi (Joint List) of the opposition.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev (Labor) and Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll (Yesh Atid), who also came down with the virus, are not MKs, thanks to the Norwegian Law.