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Coalition tensions escalate as Otzma Yehudit boycotts Cabinet meeting

The transfer of terrorists’ bodies to the Palestinians and the release of a Jordanian MP caught smuggling weapons are “unacceptable,” says Israel’s national security minister.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar ben Gvir walks with Matityahu (Mati) Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization, after a meeting at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 7, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar ben Gvir walks with Matityahu (Mati) Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization, after a meeting at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 7, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

Israeli Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and the two other ministers from his Otzma Yehudit party boycotted Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, raising tensions within Israel’s governing coalition.

Ben-Gvir said it was in protest against Israel release of Imad al-Adwan, a Jordanian lawmaker caught trying to smuggle weapons to Palestinians, and the return of the bodies of three Palestinian terrorists.

The Palestinian Authority confirmed on Friday it had received the bodies of Jihad Shami and Mohammed Dabiq, members of the Lions’ Den terror group killed after opening fire on Israeli soldiers on March 12. The body of a third terrorist, Sharif Hassan Rabaa, was released on Sunday morning. Raaba was killed while trying to stab soldiers on February 9. Their release was approved by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Adwan was caught with 12 rifles and 194 pistols in his car while traveling on a diplomatic passport. He was returned on Sunday amid heavy Jordanian pressure. Israel apparently received assurances from Amman that the 35-year-old parliamentarian would be prosecuted and serve out a prison term in Jordan.

Explaining the boycott, Ben-Gvir said on Sunday, “In the last few days, the prime minister and defense minister continue their policy, the release of the Jordanian terrorist, the release of the bodies of terrorists, etc. This is unacceptable to us and cannot continue like this. The policy must change, the government must switch to a completely right-wing policy. We received a mandate from the public to change direction—and that must happen.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not acknowledge the boycott in his public remarks at the beginning of the Cabinet session.

Joining the Cabinet boycott were Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu, and Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf.

Ben-Gvir instead visited the Israel Police’s National Counter Terrorism Unit.

On May 3, Ben-Gvir also threatened to boycott Knesset votes over what he said was the government’s “weak response” to Palestinian terror groups firing rockets following the death of Khader Adnan, a senior figure in Palestinian Islamic Jihad who had been on a hunger strike. Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to that by saying Ben-Gvir was welcome to quit.

Israel often holds the bodies of Palestinian terrorists to deter celebratory and inciting funerals, and to hold them as bargaining chips for Israelis held by Palestinians. Hamas has been holding Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed in Gaza since 2014 and 2015 respectively. Hamas also holds the bodies of Israeli soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, who were both killed on August 1, 2014, while fighting in Gaza.

Otzma Yehudit has six seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Should the boycott continue, the governing coalition will retain a slim, 58-56 parliamentary majority.

Despite national demonstrations for and against a controversial judicial overhaul initiative, the government’s priority will switch to passing a state budget.

Failure to pass a budget by May 29 will automatically dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to its sixth election in under four years.

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