Coalition tensions escalate as Ben-Gvir’s party boycotts Cabinet meeting

Protesting transfer of Jordanian MP who tried to smuggle guns into Israel and release of terrorists’ bodies, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir boycotts Cabinet meeting.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

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 releasing Imad al-Adwan, a Jordanian lawmaker caught trying to smuggle weapons to Palestinians, and the return of the body of Palestinian terrorist Sharif Hassan Rabaa, both on Sunday morning. Rabaa was killed while trying to stab soldiers near Hebron.

The release of Rabaa’s body was approved by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Adwan was returned to Jordan 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.

On Wednesday, 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.

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.”

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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 Amichai Eliyahu, and Development of the Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Minister, Yitzhak Wasserlauf.

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

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.

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