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, consequently, 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: the head of the Islamist faction, Mansour Abbas.
This leaves the Arab voter as, arguably, the biggest winner of 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, he broke away from the Joint Arab List with the Ra’am faction and campaigned on a platform to join the coalition to bargain for budgets and influence policies that affect the Arab voter. Whilst his joining the coalition was ruled out by many parties during the election, 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. Traditionally, 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 governments. 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.
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. The chances are slim, and meanwhile the witness stage of his trial has begun . . .