Analysts say Benjamin Netanyahu’s courtship of the United Arab List goes beyond its ability to help him form a ruling coalition, pointing to a much more sinister reason for the premier’s efforts to break up the Joint List.
BY YUMNA PATEL FEBRUARY 5, 2021
Head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh (R), walks through the halls of Knesset with Joint List Knesset member Ahmad Tibi. The Joint List is a coalition of four Arab factions, Odeh leads the Hadash faction and Tibi leads the Ta’al movement, July 24, 2019. (Photo: Ayman Odeh/Facebook)
Weeks before Israel’s fourth consecutive election is set to begin, the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties in Israel’s parliament, dissolved on Thursday after years of representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority, who represent 20% of Israel’s population.
In Israel’s 2019 election, the Joint List won a record 15 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for the first time in the alliance’s history.
The AP reported that the Joint List finalized its split on Thursday, breaking into an alliance of three parties who will run as a united bloc. Those parties include the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), the National Democratic Gathering (Balad) and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al).
The fourth party, the United Arab List, a party affiliated with the country’s Islamic movement, will run on its own.
The United Arab List, led by Knesset member Mansour Abbas, split with the rest of the alliance over its willingness to work with Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders “to address long standing issues like crime and housing in Israel’s Arab community,” the AP reported.
On Thursday, Abbas said that his party would “seek alliances with anyone who shares its values and in accordance with the interest of Palestinian citizens of Israel,” Al Jazeera reported, highlighting previous statements made by Abbas saying that his party had more in common in regards to social issues like LGBTQ+ rights, with some right-wing religious Jewish parties than with the other Arab parties, who are more secular and left-leaning.
And while the Arab parties and the people they represent have routinely been shunned and demonized in previous elections by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, the AP says the end of the alliance could prove to be essential for Netanyahu’s reelection efforts.
While he’s expected to secure a majority of votes, Netanyahu is predicted to fall short of forming a ruling coalition. If that happens, the AP says Mansour’s United Arab List party, which is expected to win a small number of seats, could emerge as an “unlikely kingmaker” – titles previously reserved for the likes of ultranationalist former Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Abbas’ potential to sway the ruling coalition in Netanyahu’s favor has been substantiated by the fact that for the first time, in a bizarre occurrence, Netanyahu has been openly courting Palestinian voters in the lead up to the elections.
In recent weeks Netanyahu has been making rare visits to majority Palestinian cities in Israel, and has even gone so far as to apologize for racist anti-Arab statements he made in the past, including the infamous 2015 “Arabs are voting in droves” remark, which Netanyahu said was “misconstrued” by his opponents.
Netanyahu’s desires to court Abbas and his base extend beyond the latter’s ability to help him form a ruling coalition, analysts say, pointing to a much more sinister reason for the premier’s efforts to break up the Joint List.
“Destroying the Joint List, now the third largest party in the Israeli parliament, would remove the main stumbling block on the path to permanent rule by the far-right coalition he dominates,” Jonathan Cook wrote for Mondoweiss back in November.
“So Netanyahu has seen a chance both to pry apart the Joint List, making the Palestinian vote in Israel once again marginal to his calculations, and to recruit one of its factions into his orbit where he can offer its tidbits in return for support,” Cook wrote.
A disbanded Joint List will not only serve Netanyahu’s personal political agenda, but will overall weaken the Palestinian presence in Israeli parliament, and further marginalize the nearly 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who historically relied on the alliance to promote their interests in government.