Can the United Arab List change Israeli politics from within? | Israeli-Palestinian conflict News
In view of the political drama surrounding the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu, a novum in Israeli politics has all but disappeared: for the first time in Israel’s history, Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List (Ra’am) was part of ‘a coalition government.
However, Ra’am faces the difficult task of distinguishing between satisfying his Palestinian voters and being a reasonable partner of Israel’s far right.
Even though Palestinians make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population, a voice for the minority has traditionally been largely excluded from the political decision-making process.
Their representatives were personae non gratae, undesirables, not only in ultra-Orthodox and right-wing circles, but also in secular left-wing and liberal parties.
After the March 2020 elections, Ra’am offered to support a center-left coalition led by Benny Gantz. However, Gantz declined the offer – for fear of being torn apart by the right-wing camp as an Arab fraternizer and instead entered a coalition with his rival Netanyahu – a choice he will have already regretted.
Thanks to Netanyahu, who in the past was often inclined to politicize the Arab issue to satiety and stir up antipathy against them, Ra’am is now a member of the Israeli government.
âA taboo has been broken, ironically by the Netanyahu camp, which attempted – and failed – to gain Arab support for Netanyahu’s coalition. The methods used were pretty despicable, âBenyamin Neuberger, professor emeritus of political science at the Open University of Israel, told Al Jazeera.
However, Netanyahu legitimized Ra’am, allowing the anti-Netanyahu camp – the Bloc for Change – to get Ra’am to join the coalition.
“Now any coalition with Arab parties has become legitimate – for the first time in Israel’s history,” Neuberger said.
Within the system
However, it is not only the political landscape that has seen 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 support an Israeli government. In April 2021, a poll now revealed that 48% of Jewish voters had warmed to the idea.
Ra’am has thus become increasingly aware that there is more he can do within the system.
Usually, the question of Palestine would dominate the electoral platforms of the Arab parties, but the participation of the Arab community remained relatively low. This year’s turnout was the worst in history, at 44.6 percent.
Nevertheless, this indifference to politics forced the Arab parties to initiate a paradigm shift, moving away from the priority given to the Palestinians in the occupied territories and towards improving the living conditions of their constituents, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is a shift in strategy that made sense, given that voting Palestinian citizens seem to be primarily concerned with their own plight.
Arab parties are responding to the changing mood of their constituents, who are increasingly interested in current issues: increasing criminal violence in Arab towns and villages; education; social services; discrimination in employment and municipal budgets, Neuberger said.
“Ra’am has managed to follow 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 the Jews towards Ra’am remain regarding defense, public safety and foreign policy.
Ra’am naturally pleads for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also supports equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. However, Ra’am is also ideologically aligned with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and 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 does break out again.
Ra’am walks a fine line, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, Neuberger said the main change in this case will not come from Ra’am, but by the fact that the center and, more importantly, the left are now part of a coalition that has agreed to a compromise with the right-wing part of the coalition.
“This compromise made it easier for Ra’am to join the coalition,” he said.
Nonetheless, associating with the Israeli far right will undoubtedly be seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause by some. In an attempt to deny this notion, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas has shown his propensity to follow a plan that the ultra-Orthodox religious party SHAS had previously advocated, Neuberger said.
âAbbas will make ideological concessions, such as accepting Zionism and recognizing the Jewish state, in return for supporting his party’s interests, such as funding his schools. “
However, given that Raam only holds four seats in the Knesset, the coalition will always appeal more to the Jewish majority, which seems natural.
The fundamental change seems to be that from now on, the Arab minority will be more important than in the past, Neuberger said.
For his party’s vote, Abbas asked for additional funds for the Arab sector. Co-Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid accepted and doubled the budget for Israel’s five-year Arab Sector Development Plan to NIS 35 billion ($ 10.75 billion).
In addition, Ra’am secured the subsequent recognition of three Bedouin villages illegally established in the Negev Desert, a constituency that is made up primarily of religious or nationalist Palestinian citizens of Israel. It marks a crucial shift in Israeli politics – representation in the Knesset with the power to get things done in favor of the Palestinians.
âThis is the first time in Israel’s history that an Arab National Party has been part of the government and that the government depends on its vote for formation, survival and legislation. This is an unprecedented situation – unlike Rabin’s coalition in 1992-95 when the Arab parties supported the opposition government, âSammy Smooha, professor of sociology at the University of Haifa, told Al Jazeera. .
âRa’am’s main objective in this coalition is to serve as the main representative of Arabs in Israel and to be more representative than other Arab governing bodies such as the United Arab List, the Council of Heads of Local Councils Arabs and the Higher Fellow. -Committee up.
As such, Ra’am is likely to insist on the implementation of other policies such as the allocation of land for Arab public needs and housing, the war on violence and crime in the Arab sector and construction. from an Arab university in the Galilee, said Smooha. .
In particular, the issue of crime is increasingly devastating Arab communities, with an unshakeable increase in homicides.
However, the performance will not compensate for apparent congestion in the manner of Ra’am.
Bennett, who once called Abbas a “supporter of terrorism,” advocates the policy of Jewish settlement and is a vocal opponent of a Palestinian state. Indeed, most of the coalition partners are right-wing nationalists who can criticize Netanyahu’s personality, but not necessarily his policies.
How many concessions are possible in such an environment?
The political commitment of a single Arab party is therefore unlikely to lead to reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. The latest religious disturbances have shown how fragile coexistence remains.
However, with the historic coalition agreement, Palestinian citizens of Israel are no longer outcasts. In the long run, some experts say, it could bring Jewish and Arab citizens closer together – if this extremely heterogeneous coalition can be sustained.
Moreover, Ra’am’s involvement has the potential to contribute to some relaxation of the fronts, as sweeping measures such as the annexation of the occupied territories could spell 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 realm and can endanger its survival if it crosses the red lines in the national realm,” Smooha said.
These red lines will be ubiquitous in Israel’s new government, namely the aforementioned civic and socio-economic demands or a subsequent Israeli war in Gaza, Smooha said.
However, the chances that the two red lines would be crossed were “not high”, he added.
Despite the promising change in Israeli policy, Ra’am now finds himself in a precarious position in which his room for maneuver between ideology and reality appears rather limited.
Its role and conduct within the coalition is likely to determine whether the Arab parties in government will actually be seen as legitimate to move forward, or whether it will be classified as a failed experiment and hamper any further progress.