Cracks in Israel’s fragile coalition
January 17, 2022 - Naftali Bennett’s eight-party coalition includes the far left, centrists, his own right-wing Yamina party, and for the first time in the Jewish state’s history, an Arab Islamic party, United Arab List.
Currently, a government-sponsored tree-planting project by the Jewish National Fund in southern Israel’s Negev has split the seven-month-old coalition. It depicts an ongoing conflict between Bedouin Arabs, who claim property rights in the Negev desert where they lived as semi-nomadic tribes before the founding of Israel in 1948, and the government, which maintains that the majority of the area is state-owned.
An estimated 200,000-230,000 Bedouins live in unrecognized villages in the triangle between Beersheba, Arad, and Dimona in the Negev. They mostly have no connection to electricity, running water, or other utilities. Unemployment and poverty are much higher in the region than in the rest of Israel.
There is only one party in the Israeli coalition that stands with the residents of the Negev -- the United Arab List (UAL), whose constituents are predominantly Bedouin Arabs.
Since last Wednesday (January 12), UAL leader Mansour Abbas has boycotted coalition votes in the Knesset over Israel’s primary forest management agent’s tree-planting initiative, saying trees are not more important than people.”
Bennett’s coalition needs UAL’s four votes to retain its single-member majority of 61 in the 120-seat Knesset.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the founder of centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future), has also urged a halt to the contested forestation. “The Bedouin problem has been forsaken,” Lapid said in a statement. Yesh Atid is the second-largest party in the coalition, with 17 seats.