On Tuesday, March 23rd, Israelis took to the polls for the fourth time in only two years, to elect what would be a stable government that would avoid previously experienced instability that has allowed the only democracy in the Middle East to reach this milestone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud party, has seen the largest amount of seats earned thus far, said that Tuesday night was a “massive victory” for the right-wing, in a midnight speech at party headquarters.
Regardless of the Pro-Netanyahu cheers, the truth is this is the fourth election in a row where Netanyahu failed to receive a clear right-wing majority government. With around 95% of the vote counted, the pro-Netanyahu parties are on track to earn 52 seats, which is nine short of the 61-majority threshold. On the other side, the anti-Netanyahu parties have accumulated only 50 seats.
Both sides will need to persuade Naftali Bennett’s Right-wing Yamina party to join them, however, it is most expected that Bennett is to join the side with greater ideological proximity that, being the Pro-Netanyahu camp. Although Bennett’s party has key seats to offer, he and his party have underperformed according to previous election polls. He has previously announced that he would not join a coalition with Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid as Prime Minister, only to be downplayed by Lapid himself; regardless his estimated seven seats will not be enough for either camp.
The real deciding factor happens to be none other than Mansour Abbas and the Ra’am Islamist Party. In any other scenario, he would be running with the Arab Joint List party, however, with political spats over his cooperation with Netanyahu, he took the matter into his hand to fulfill his vision of cooperating with Zionist parties to deliver more funding for his Arab constituencies. Every year Arab-Israeli votes become more frustrated with the failure of political action because the Joint List Knesset member always sits in opposition where their roles are limited.
The next stage for the Israeli Arab sector is to have their leaders engage more positively with Zionist parties to sit in government. Mansour Abbas may be the first to accomplish this vital milestone, last year he announced that he was open to even cooperate with a Netanyahu government, so long as Arab communities would be better of for it. Most pundits have overlooked Abbas’ gamble to run outside the join list, so much so that he was not even expected to reach the minimum Knesset threshold.
The challenge however is that the Pro-Netanyahu camp includes the extreme religious Zionist headed by Itamar Ben Gvir, who has attacked the loyalty o Arab-Israeli citizens and Knesset members alike. On the other end, Ra’am party official, Shua Mansour Masarwa pointed out that the scenario of Ra’am in the Netanyahu bloc may be less likely due to such religious Zionist parties. “We won’t sit with racists who threaten us, who threaten Al-Aqsa”, he said. Shua also mentioned that “there are other options for a government,” which is yet another hint that cooperation is likely, but could this be referring to the Anti-Netanyahu camp, only time will tell.
While to some Israelis, Ra’am may sound scary, they have pulled away from the Joint List boycott, have demonstrated the public will to improve the Arab sector economically and reduce crime. This is very important, in the spirit of peace, stemming from the Abraham Accords, the more the Arab world, which includes Israel’s Arab sector, stems away from Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Authority, Israel right to exist will be embraced more than ever before.
Finally, the inclusion of an Arab party, improvement in the Arab sector will surely send the right signals to Israel’s new Arab Gulf allies. Just as Ra’am broke from the Joint List, public statements shall allow it to distance itself from any other troubling affiliation or past that may act as the only remaining blockade from making history in Israel’s democracy.