United Arab League suspending Israeli parliamentary participation

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

April 19, 2022

On Sunday, April 17, the United Arab League (UAL), also known as Ra’am, announced that they were freezing parliamentary activities, primarily motivated in response to Israeli forces’ clashing with Palestinian civilians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem two days prior. 

The UAL party members, led by Mansour Abbas, are mostly comprised of Israeli Arabs. Notably, over 20 percent of Israel’s population is Palestinian. The UAL was the first party representing Palestinian citizens to ever join an Israeli government and holds four seats in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition. Bennett barely gained a majority to win his position, holding 61 seats in the 120 seat Israeli parliament, with the help of UAL’s support. However, the symbolic suspense of UAL is of particular relevance currently due to Bennet losing parliamentary majority last week. The Israeli parliament is in recess until May 8, and it is uncertain what implications the UAL’s suspense will entail, whether practical, symbolic, or both.

Dissecting the clashes themselves, Friday’s clash between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque left almost 160 Palestinians injured. According to Al Jazeera, the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it evacuated the majority of the wounded to hospitals. The endowment said one of the guards at the site was shot in the eye with a rubber-coated bullet. The Palestinian Red Crescent added Israeli forces hindered the arrival of ambulances and paramedics to the mosque, as Palestinian media said dozens of injured worshippers remained trapped inside the compound.

Journalist Mohammed Najib highlighted the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani. Al-Kiswani told Arab News: “The invasion of the mosque by the Israeli occupation police and the violent suppression of the worshippers at dawn on Friday led to a decline in the number of worshippers. There were 60,000 worshippers while we expected the number to reach 170,000. Al-Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims alone and does not accept partnership or its division with Jews. Israeli provocations, whether by police forces or extremist Jews, are sponsored by the right-wing Israeli government. The (Israeli) occupation allows the invasion of Al-Aqsa on every Jewish occasion and feast, whether it coincides with Ramadan or not. Jewish extremists and the Israeli occupation have nothing to do with Al-Aqsa, which is a pure right of Muslims alone, but the Israelis want to turn the conflict into a religious conflict and impose a new reality on the mosque.”

However, varying accounts of the incident in the Al-Aqsa mosque were presented. David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, stated that although Israeli police tactics can be questioned in the incident, the Palestinians gathered around the mosque were bent on confrontation. Horovitz states that Palestinians “had assembled piles of rocks and stones and barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa Mosque in preparation for the violence. Some had Hamas flags with them — incited by and affiliating themselves with the Islamist terror group that, with similar cynicism and indifference to true faith, has used Gaza’s mosques to store rockets when engaged in conflict with a Jewish state it openly seeks to destroy. And as with Hamas in Gaza, while ostensibly guarding their religion and its third-holiest shrine, the rioters were actually dishonoring it. You only had to look at their feet: The stone-throwers who clashed with Israeli security forces in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque had their shoes on — in breach of the respectful Islamic tradition to remove impure footwear when entering the house of prayer.”

Horovitz reassured that the Palestinians weren’t acting in a vacuum. Explained further in his The Times of Israel piece, he stated that “the incendiary extremism of several “return to the Temple Mount” Jewish groups talking up plans to carry out Passover sacrifices atop the mount — the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical Temples, and a location that most Orthodox Jews consider too sacred to visit for fear of inadvertently treading where the Holy of Holies stood — had plainly exacerbated Old City frictions.”

The clashes added fuel to Israeli flame following key member of Bennett’s party Idit Silman quitting due to a government decision regarding Passover. According to Al Monitor, in early April, “Silman had lashed out at Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz after he instructed hospitals to allow leavened bread products onto their premises during the upcoming Passover holiday, in line with a recent supreme court ruling reversing years of prohibition. Jewish tradition bars leavened bread from the public domain during Passover… [Silman said,] “I am ending my membership of the coalition and will try to continue to talk my friends into returning home and forming a right-wing government. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

Silman quitting is putting the UAL on the spotlight, following the UAL’s public statement of suspension. However, writing for Haaretz, Jack Khoury states “the decision by the United Arab List’s Shura Council…to freeze the party’s membership in the governing coalition could be seen as a red card for the government, or it could be perceived as the opposite. The move allows both sides of the coalition to climb down from the tree, and find a solution to the actual political crisis by the end of the Knesset session in May.”

Israeli-Palestinian growing tensions both physically and politically have caused regional states to act. Jordan stated they will host a meeting of the Arab Ministerial Committee on Thursday. April 21. According to Jordan Times, the committee will include Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi “is holding talks aimed at developing an effective and pressing international stance to stop the illegal Israeli measures at Al Aqsa Mosque, as he met with ambassadors of the EU and European countries accredited to the Kingdom. Safadi emphasized Israel’s need to respect the historical and legal status quo of Al Aqsa Mosque, reiterating that Al Haram Al Sharif, with its total area of 144 dunums, is a place of worship for Muslims alone and that the Jordan-run Jerusalem Awqaf and Aqsa Affairs Department has the “exclusive authority” to supervise the holy site’s affairs and manage entries.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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