A small Israeli-Palestinian party unexpectedly won crucial seats in the Israeli election, which could put it in a position to choose Israel’s next prime minister.
The United Arab List (UAL), also known as the Hebrew Ra’am, appears to have won just five seats in the 120-member Knesset, but it could decide whether Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister , will remain in function. .
This is a strange situation for Netanyahu, who came to power by rejecting compromise with the Palestinians and used racist rhetoric in previous campaigns to turn the country’s Arab minority into a fifth column of “terrorist” sympathizers.
With around 90% of the votes counted on Wednesday, Netanyahu, 71, and his natural allies, and the bloc opposing him, are each missing a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.
Unless another party decides to switch sides, each would need the support of Mansour Abbas, leader of the UAL, to form a government and avoid another round of elections.
In Israel’s fourth election in two years, Netanyahu sought Arab support in what many saw as a two-pronged strategy to garner votes and split the common list, an alliance of Arab parties that won a record 15 seats in last year’s election.
In this vote, Abbas separated from the joint list and led a separate party.
“The key development since the close of the ballot has been the entry into parliament of this small branch of the common Arabic list – the Ra’am party or the Joint Arab List led by Mansour Abbas, ”said Harry Fawcett of Al Jazeera, in West Jerusalem.
“Its philosophy is conservative Islamist. He has moved his party over the past 12 months into a more pragmatic space of Israeli politics, speaking of being open to engaging with various parties – especially if they promise to do what is necessary in the Israeli-Palestinian sector. for his constituents. He therefore leaves himself open to working with the pro or anti-Netanyahu bloc.
There is also a chance that Naftali Bennett, 48, a right-wing leader who also remains unengaged, will cast his support for the anti-Netanyahu bloc. In that case, he could dispense with the UAL if he maintained support for the larger Arab Common List. Netanyahu could also potentially form a coalition without the UAL if he convinces members of the other bloc to defect.
Marwan Bishara, senior Al Jazeera political analyst, said the situation with Abbas as a possible kingmaker “is extraordinary but not realistic.”
“Theoretically, anything can happen. But I don’t think in real life we’re going to see far-right Naftali Bennett sit down with Abbas. Certainly, you won’t see the religious Zionist party – the most extreme of the most extreme fundamentalist Jewish parties – sitting together in the same coalition with an Islamist party. What we will see in the next 45 days is a lot of maneuvering, ”said Bishara.
Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population of 9.3 million. They have citizenship, speak Hebrew fluently, and are well represented in the medical profession and in universities.
But they face widespread discrimination in housing and public services. In recent years, they have organized regular protests condemning violent crimes and accusing the Israeli authorities of failing doing enough to protect their communities, allegations police dismissed.
Arab citizens of Israel have close family ties with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and largely identify with the Palestinian cause. This has led many Israeli Jews to view them with suspicion, something Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders have capitalized on in previous elections.
Ahead of the 2015 polls, Netanyahu drew criticism after warning his supporters that Arabs were voting “en masse.” In 2019, he pushed for observers and cameras to be placed at polling stations in Arab areas, which critics said was an attempt to intimidate voters.
It remains to be seen if these words will come back to haunt him.
Another victory would extend his 12 years in power – already the longest in Israeli history. Defeat would likely spell the end of his political career and make him increasingly vulnerable to prosecution and potential jail time as his corruption trial unfolds. Or the country could plunge into another election campaign, extending two years of stalemate.
As it stands, Likud is expected to be the largest party with 30 seats, less than its current 36. The centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, 57, is behind with 17 seats.
An alliance with center-left Netanyahu opponents appears to be a political exercise.
“There is an extremely complex and contradictory puzzle of coalition building as they try to investigate and pick up the pieces of this election,” Fawcett said.
Netanyahu had campaigned on his leadership credentials based on a Deployment of COVID-19 vaccination This has enabled nearly 50% of Israelis to already receive two vaccines.
But accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which Netanyahu has denied in an ongoing corruption trial, as well as economic hardship in three nationwide coronavirus lockdowns, weighed on his popularity.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, said exit polls showed the country remains divided and that a fifth national election remains a real option.
“At the same time, if Bennett joins his coalition, Netanyahu is closer than ever to a narrow government comprising the most extreme elements of Israeli society,” Plesner said.