Israel coalition parties trying to find 'every way to keep government' alive: minister
A key partner in Israel's governing coalition said on Monday that all the factions are working to try and keep the fragile coalition afloat, less than a year after it was sworn into office.
The coalition has come under threat by internal squabbles and repeated Israeli security and settler raids on occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
The assaults have left over 200 Palestinians injured and seen worshippers struck with batons and attacked with tear gas by Israeli security.
Earlier this month a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's party split from the ruling coalition, leaving the government without a majority in parliament and raising the possibility of yet another national election after years of political chaos.
The eight-party alliance, made up of ultranationalists, left-of-centre parties and a small Islamist faction, is now deadlocked with the opposition with 60 seats each in the 120-member Knesset.
That has greatly complicated the government's ability to pass legislation and raised the risk of plunging the country into snap elections.
"It is a challenging moment for the coalition, for sure. Politically speaking, there are obstacles," Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said. But she expressed hope for the government’s survival.
Michaeli, who is the transportation minister, said that all party chiefs "are working together in order to find every way to keep this government, and to keep it working the way it has been doing so far."
She spoke at a meeting of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, a city that Israel has illegally occupied since 1967 and annexed in 1980 in a move not recognised by the international community.
Idit Silman served as coalition whip until her departure from Yamina, the small hard-line party led by Bennett, earlier this month.
She said in a resignation letter that "key values in my worldview are inconsistent with current reality", days after voicing vehement opposition to allowing bread into public hospitals on the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Yamina is popular among religious nationalist Jews, who refrain from consuming bread during the holiday.
Bennett's coalition also faces other challenges. Israeli raids at Al-Aqsa prompted the small Islamist party Raam — the first Palestinian party to serve in an Israeli coalition — to temporarily suspend its participation in protest.
In addition to the Israeli police's attacks against worshippers in Jerusalem, Palestinians also point to the large number of Israelis attempting to pray at the Al-Aqsa compound during Passover, in violation of the status quo agreement there, as an unacceptable escalation.
Israeli leaders have accused Hamas of orchestrating violence and encouraging young Palestinians to confront police.
Under longstanding norms, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to worship there. But this has increasingly happened in recent years with apparent Israeli police backing, raising Palestinian concerns that Israel is plotting to take over or divide the site. Israel denies the allegations.
Michaeli declined to cast blame for the latest events at Al-Aqsa, where Israel began its attacks over a week ago, but said all sides should act reasonably.
"I would like to reduce to a minimum anything that causes violence or hardships in the Temple Mount," Michaeli said, using the term the Al-Aqsa compound is known by to Jews.
She added that Israel needs to reach a political agreement with Palestine that would also encompass the future status of the holy site.
The Israeli attacks at the Jerusalem mosque are part of a broader wave of violence. This has seen several deadly attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, many lethal Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, the shooting of an unarmed Palestinian woman by Israeli security, and exchanges of fire between Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.
On Monday, a rocket was launched from Lebanon into Israel, which struck back with tank shelling.
Bennett's unwieldy coalition came to power following a protracted political crisis that saw Israelis go to the polls four times in about two years.
Despite their ideological differences, the eight parties banded together to oust former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who now serves as opposition leader.