The following article is written by Gil Rubin, who joins us a new NCF intern from Israel. We are glad to have him with us:
Israel’s fourth elections in two years held on 23rd March 2021 were yet again inconclusive. At stake was whether the electorate would give Benjamin Netanyahu the necessary 61 seats to form a government. A government that, incidentaly, would provide immunity from his corruption trial. This wasn’t granted, with the pro-Netanyahu bloc gaining 59 seats whilst the anti-Netanyahu bloc won 57 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. This left an unlikely kingmaker with the remaining four seats: the head of the Islamist faction, Mansour Abbas.
This leaves the Arab voter as, arguably, the biggest winner in the ensuing uncertainty. The four seats garnered by Abbas have become highly coveted by both the anti-Netanyahu and pro-Netanyahu blocs. Before the elections, his Ra’am faction broke away from the Joint Arab List and campaigned on a platform to join the coalition to bargain for budgets and to influence policies that affect the Arab voter. Whilst his joining the coalition was ruled out by many parties during the campaign, realpolitik now calls.
This has led to an overnight ‘kosherising’ (hachshara), as Israel’s media pundits say, of Arab participation in coalitions; a taboo whose only precedent remains Yitzhak Rabin’s second government when two Arab parties provided parliamentary support from outside the coalition. Historically, the Arab parties have been marginalised in the coalition building process, being viewed as illegitimate coalition partners by Jewish Zionist parties of almost all stripes. That said, for their part they have in any case hitherto been reluctant to join a government that they view as occupying the West Bank and besieging Gaza.
The Rubicon has now been crossed with both camps’ courting of Ra’am, and Ra’am loosening its ideological objection to participation in Israel’s governing coalitions. In the short term, the Arab voter stands to gain a government that funds its municipalities, deals with the rife crime impacting the Bedouin villages of the Negev, and reverses the harm done by the Nation State bill. In the long term, a path is paved to continuous and legitimate input into a government that controls the Arab voter’s life.
Netanyahu can’t be declared the loser as he may yet cobble together a coalition, should he succeed in courting Ra’am and gaining approval from his natural coalition partner to his right, the Jewish supremacist party Religious Zionism. At all events, Abbas’ price for such a government will be steep indeed, and the benefits will be reaped by the Arab voter. The chances are slim, and Netanyahu’s rivals are splintered. Meanwhile the witness stage of his trial has begun . . . .