Meretz to back civil rights bill for settlers, but tensions within coalition reportedly persist

The left-leaning Meretz party will back a bill extending Israeli legal protections to West Bank settlers whom Justice Minister Gideon Saar has threatened to test the survival capacity of the diverse and fragile coalition.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin said the left-wing faction’s support is based on coalition agreements not to make major changes to the status quo regarding the Palestinians, a key part of the pact that holds the disparate government together.

The ruling leaves the Islamist Ra’am party as the only apparent holdout against the bill within the coalition.

Ra’am has been tight-lipped about how he will vote on the bill, but is believed to generally object to settlers being granted rights denied to Palestinians.

Party leader MK Mansour Abbas was working to persuade members of his faction to back the bill, Channel 12 reported.

Meanwhile, the TV channel reported lingering tensions during a meeting called by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with other party leaders from the ruling coalition of left, center and right factions with Ra am. Saar said the government’s future hinged on the bill’s passage. Reports earlier on Wednesday said he was holding talks with opposition figures on a potential new government.

Sources said Saar was “irritable” at the meeting, warning that it is not possible to maintain a government when each party in the coalition does what it wants. Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid then reportedly confronted Saar, saying, “The question is how do you handle this, and do you want to fix it or break it? [the government] a part?”

Coalition leaders are reportedly intrigued by Saar’s stance on the issue, believing differences between them can be resolved.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin attends a Knesset committee meeting on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saar said that if the bill is not passed, Israeli settlers will be subject to the same military legal system as Palestinians, which he described as a disastrous outcome. Under the bill, Palestinians remain subject to a separate military justice system.

“There is no doubt that this continues the status quo,” Rozin told Channel 12. What was will be.

She also accused members of the right-wing coalition parties of trying to portray Meretz as seeking to break up the government, while suggesting that Saar and his New Hope party were the ones seeking to do so.

“Maybe they already have another government, that’s what it looks like. Because otherwise, in my opinion, it would be possible to solve this without creating this crisis,” Rozin said.

His comments came as Channel 13 news reported that Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi had drawn up a list of demands for her to back the bill, including a government move to set up a fund. State to provide guarantees for mortgages in the Arab community; the formation of a working group to study the creation of a new Arab city in the north of the country; and the allocation of 500 million shekels ($150 million) for the northern city of Nazareth, his hometown.

Rinwawie Zoabi, who announced last month that she would no longer vote with the coalition only to backtrack a few days later, also demanded greater representation of Israeli Arabs in public office and in the allocation of land for educational institutions.

Last month, Zoabi announced she would no longer vote with the coalition because it leaned too far to the right, but reversed her position days later, reportedly after striking a deal for the government to provide hundreds of millions of shekels to Arab Israel. community.

MK Nir Orbach, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, tweeted that the government “must not give in to endless blackmail from some Arab Knesset members. Not MK Zoabi, not just anyone.

The bill “must pass,” he wrote.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on May 22, 2022. (Oz Avital)

Saar had planned to put the bill to a vote this week, but delayed it over fears it would not have enough support in the Knesset. The vote will take place next Monday.

The opposition has pledged to oppose the bill even though the right-wing religious bloc led by Likud supports the extension of rights. With the government and opposition having equal seats in the Knesset, the opposition has pledged to oppose any coalition legislation with the aim of bringing down the government.

The bill would renew an emergency measure extending Israeli criminal law and some key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank. Although Israel has not annexed the West Bank, the measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as if they were living in Israel in most cases, without extending those same legal protections to Palestinians.

Originally enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, the law remains an “emergency measure” which must be renewed every five years. Last adopted in 2017, it is due to expire at the end of June.

Political turmoil prompted Defense Minister Benny Gantz to delay a visit to India, for the second time, after opposition lawmakers refused to make up for his absence from Knesset votes.

Gantz was due to travel to India to sign a “special security declaration” marking 30 years of security and diplomatic relations between the countries. The trip was originally scheduled to take place in late March, but Gantz delayed it amid a series of deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank.

Hours before his scheduled departure on Wednesday, a Likud party source confirmed that the opposition would “absolutely” refuse to offset Gantz’s vote.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a meeting of the Blue and White faction at the Knesset, May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Vote compensation is a common practice in the Knesset, whereby a coalition and an opposition MK nullify their votes through a mutually agreed absence or abstention.

It was not immediately clear whether Gantz would fly later in the day. A Defense Ministry spokesperson said the trip would take place at a later date or time, and a Blue and White party spokesperson said he would remain in the country for the time being.

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