Temple Mount clashes endanger Bennett coalition

Ra’am’s Shura Council to decide the government's fate as Knesset reconvenes.

 Knesset cabinet meeting, May 1, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Knesset cabinet meeting, May 1, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition faced new obstacles on Thursday over clashes between police and Palestinians on the Temple Mount that angered the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party.

Two policemen were hurt and 21 Palestinian rioters were arrested, as Jews returned to the Mount following the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday after it was closed to them for two weeks. An estimated 1,000 Jews ascended the Mount on Thursday.

The last time there were clashes on the holy site, Ra’am froze its membership in the coalition and warned that the party would take more drastic steps if the police returned to al-Aqsa Mosque. Now, members of the party’s governing Shura Council want to leave permanently ahead of the spring session of the Knesset that starts on Monday.

“What happened at al-Aqsa this morning is a slap in the face to Ra’am,” Shura Council member Masud Ghnaim, who has been an MK for a decade, told the Arabic Nas Radio. “The time has come to shift from freezing to leaving this coalition that does not respect us. It has become a unilateral relationship and we cannot let it continue this way. We will leave the coalition and come back to the embrace of our people.”

Ghnaim blamed the escalation on Yamina politicians Ayelet Shaked, Nir Orbach and Yomtob Kalfon, who praised opening the Temple Mount to Jews for Independence Day on social media. Kalfon even boasted that he persuaded Bennett to make the decision.

 A group of Jewish visitors walk across the Temple Mount, escorted by Israel Police while Palestinians riot in the background. (credit: TZVI JOFFRE)
A group of Jewish visitors walk across the Temple Mount, escorted by Israel Police while Palestinians riot in the background. (credit: TZVI JOFFRE)

“I coordinated with the prime minister to enable the opening of the Mount on Independence Day, and I myself had the honor of ascending,” Kalfon wrote on Twitter.

Kalfon was heckled by right-wing activists who shouted at him that he “sits with Hamas in the government” and “history will not forget your betrayal.”

Shaked bragged about a record number of Jews visiting the site over the past year.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, who is abroad on a family vacation, had intended to end the freeze and gradually return to the coalition. He met with Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and agreed on a timetable for the return.

But Abbas’s opponents in Ra’am are pressuring the Shura Council to extend the freeze of the party’s membership in the coalition instead of ending it, using Yamina’s Temple Mount behavior as an excuse. The most extreme members of the council want to obligate Abbas to declare that the party is leaving the coalition immediately.

A Yamina official responded that such a step would be “suicide” for Ra’am, and “would prove that their entire political approach has failed.”

Bennett referenced the challenges facing his government and its diversity at an Independence Day event at the President’s Residence.

“I head a government whose composition I wouldn’t have dreamed of in a thousand years,” he said.

Bennett will face two votes of no-confidence on Monday, one submitted by Likud and another by Shas and United Torah Judaism. They will be the first votes since former coalition chairwoman Idit Silman defected to the opposition.

Opposition officials promised surprises that would catch Bennett unprepared. They said right-wing MKs in the coalition would soon realize that they need to leave before Ra’am in order to receive credit on the Right.

“Ra’am is very close to quitting,” a Likud official said. “Our goal is to persuade Orbach or another MK to come first, while they can still get something in return. Politicians are hungry to continue their careers. We hope what we have been cooking will be ready soon. If not by Monday, then soon.”