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Knesset committee meetings canceled as coalition tensions rise

The Otzma Yehudit Party steps up the pressure on the prime minister.

Knesset member Zvika Fogel leads a National Security Committee meeting at the Knesset on May 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Knesset member Zvika Fogel leads a National Security Committee meeting at the Knesset on May 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Tensions within Israel’s governing coalition escalated on Monday as Knesset committees chaired by lawmakers from the Otzma Yehudit Party canceled meetings.

Knesset members Zvika Fogel, who chairs the Knesset’s National Security Committee, and Limor Sonn Har Melech, who heads the Committee for Oversight of the Israeli Citizens’ Fund, canceled their respective panels’ meetings for the rest of the week.

Fogel said that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not implemented a “fully right-wing” national security policy.

The boycott spilled over to the Knesset’s Finance Committee, where Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kroizer absented himself from votes related to the draft state budget. The Finance Committee is chaired by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni and its meetings are continuing.

Otzma Yehudit is boycotting Cabinet meetings and Knesset votes in protest against Israel releasing Imad al-Adwan, a Jordanian lawmaker caught trying to smuggle weapons to Palestinians, and the return of the bodies of three Palestinian terrorists to their families while two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two slain IDF soldiers are being held in the Gaza Strip. The party has also been sharply critical of the government’s handling of recent rocket fire from Gaza.

Party leader and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and two other ministers from Otzma Yehudit boycotted Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Ben-Gvir also threatened to boycott Knesset votes over what he said was the government’s “weak response” to Palestinian terrorist groups firing rockets following the death in an Israeli prison of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member who had been on a hunger strike. Netanyahu’s Likud Party responded to that by saying Ben-Gvir was welcome to quit. Ben-Gvir said the prime minister was free to fire his party from the government coalition.

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

Despite national demonstrations for and against the judicial overhaul initiative, the government’s priority has pivoted to passing a state budget. Failure to pass a budget by May 29 will see the Knesset automatically dissolved and send Israel to its sixth election in just over four years.

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 IDF soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, who were both killed in 2014 while fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority confirmed on Friday it had received the bodies of Jihad Shami and Mohammed Dabiq, members of the Lions’ Den terrorist group killed after opening fire on 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 Feb. 9.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud approved the releases.

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

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