In view of the political drama surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu way out, a novum in Israeli politics almost fell into the background: for the first time in the history of Israel, that of Mansour Abbas United Arabic list (Ra’am) became part of a coalition government.
However, Ra’am faces the difficult task of walking right between serving his Palestinian voters and being a reasonable partner of Israel’s far right.
Although Palestinians make up almost 20% of Israel’s population, the voice of the minority has traditionally been largely excluded from the political decision-making process.
Its representatives were personae no gratae, undesirable, not only in ultra-Orthodox and right-wing circles, but also for secular and liberal parties.
Following the March 2020 elections, Ra’am offered to support a center-left coalition under Benny Gantz. Gantz, however, turned down the offer, for fear of being shattered by the right-wing camp as an Arab fraternizer, and instead entered into a coalition with rival Netanyahu, an option he would have already regretted.
Thanks to Netanyahu, who in the past was often inclined to politicize the Arab issue to the point of discomfort and provoke antipathy against them, Ra’am is now a member of the Israeli government.
“A taboo camp was broken, ironically, by the Netanyahu camp, which tried – and failed – the Arab support of the Netanyahu coalition. The methods used were quite despicable,” Professor Neymerger Benjamin Neuberger told Al Jazeera emeritus of political science from the Open University of Israel.
However, Netanyahu legitimized Ra’am, allowing the anti-Netanyahu camp, the Bloc for Change, to get Ra’am to join the coalition.
“From now on, any coalition with Arab parties has become legitimate, and this for the first time in Israeli history,” Neuberger said.
Within the system
However, not only the political landscape has witnessed a change, but also Israeli society. In February 2020, polls indicated that only 23% of Jewish voters would support the idea that the country’s Arab parties would support an Israeli government. In April 2021, a poll found that now 48 percent of Jewish voters had warmed up with the idea.
Ra’am, therefore, was increasingly aware that he could achieve more within the system.
Normally, the Palestinian question dominated the electoral programs of the Arab parties, but turnout among the Arab community remained relatively low. This year’s turnout was the worst in history, at 44.6 percent.
However, this indifference to politics forced the Arab parties to initiate a paradigm shift, in addition to prioritizing the Palestinians in the occupied territories and improving the living conditions of their voters, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is a change of strategy that made sense, as Palestinian voting citizens appear to be primarily interested in their own destiny.
Arab parties are responding to the changing mood of their voters, who are increasingly interested in issues of bread: continued criminal violence in Arab cities and towns; education; Social services; discrimination in employment and municipal budgets, Neuberger said.
“Ra’am was successful in following the trend.”
However, while Ra’am has benefited from this new reality in Israel, the status quo will not necessarily represent the future. The fundamental concerns of Jews towards Ra’am remain defense, public security, and foreign policy.
Ra’am naturally advocates the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also supports the equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. However, Ra’am is also ideologically aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, now banned in Egypt, and with Hamas in Gaza. The latter, in particular, raises difficult questions to which the coalition will have to find an answer, especially if a conflict with Gaza erupts again.
Ra’am is doing well, especially with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
However, Neuberger said the main change in this matter will not be brought about by Ra’am, but by the fact that the center and even more so the left has become part of a coalition that agreed to a commitment to the right. the coalition.
“This commitment has facilitated Ra’am’s accession to the coalition,” he said.
However, having joined forces with the Israeli far right will no doubt be seen by some as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. In an attempt to deny this notion, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas has shown his inclination to follow a plan that the ultra-Orthodox religious party had previously advocated, Neuberger said.
“Abbas will make ideological concessions, such as the acceptance of Zionism and the recognition of the Jewish state, in exchange for supporting the interests of his party, for example, funding for his schools.”
However, given the reality that Ra’am only has four seats in the Knesset, the coalition will continue to serve more of the Jewish majority, which seems natural.
The fundamental change seems to be that from now on, the Arab minority will be more important than it used to be in the past, Neuberger said.
For his party’s vote, Abbas demanded additional funds for the Arab sector. Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid agreed and doubled the budget of the five-year plan for the development of the Israeli Arab sector to 35 billion shekels ($ 10.75 million).
In addition, Ra’am secured the subsequent recognition of three illegally settled Bedouin peoples in the Negev Desert, a district made up primarily of religious or nationalist Palestinian citizens of Israel. It marks a fundamental change in Israeli politics: the representation of the Knesset with the power to move issues in favor of the Palestinians.
“This is the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab national party is part of the government and that the government depends on its vote for formation, survival and legislation. This is an unprecedented situation, in unlike the Rabin coalition in 1992-95, when Arab parties supported the government from the opposition, ”Sammy Smooha, a sociology professor at the University of Haifa, told Al Jazeera.
“Ra’am’s main purpose in this coalition is to serve as the main representative of the Arabs in Israel and to be more representative than other Arab leadership bodies such as the joint list, the Council of Arab Local Councils and the senior member -Committee superior “.
As such, Ra’am will likely insist on the implementation of other policies such as the allocation of land for Arab needs and public housing, the war on violence and crime in the Arab sector, and the construction of an Arab university. in Galilee, said Smooha.
Particularly, the issue of crime is increasingly devastating Arab communities, with homicide growing steadily.
However, the performance will not compensate for the apparent charges in the manner of Ra’am.
Bennett, who called Abbas a “defender of terrorism,” defends Jewish settlement policy and is a vehement opponent of a Palestinian state. In fact, most coalition partners are right-wing nationalists who may be critical of Netanyahu’s personality, but not necessarily with his policies.
How many concessions can be conceived in this environment?
Therefore, it is unlikely that the political participation of an Arab party will only lead to reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. Recent religious concerns have shown how fragile coexistence is maintained.
However, with the historic coalition agreement, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are no longer pariahs. In the long run, some experts say, it could bring Jewish and Arab citizens closer together, if this extremely heterogeneous coalition can be maintained.
In addition, Ra’am’s involvement may contribute to some relaxation of the fronts, as radical steps such as the annexation of the occupied territories could mean the end of the coalition.
“The new dynamic is that the government cannot ignore the needs and goals of the Arab minority in the civic area and can jeopardize its survival if it crosses the red lines in the national area,” Smooha said.
These red lines will be ubiquitous in the new Israeli government, that is, the aforementioned civic and socioeconomic demands or a subsequent Israeli war in Gaza, Smooha said.
However, the chances of crossing the two red lines were not “high”, he added.
Despite the promising change in Israeli politics, Ra’am is now in a precarious position in which his room for maneuver between ideology and reality seems quite limited.
Their role and conduct in the coalition are likely to affect whether Arab parties in government will be seen as legitimate to move forward or whether they will present themselves as a failed experiment and hinder any future progress.