The election’s impact on Jewish-Palestinian relations
Understandable gloom dominates those who are appalled that overtly racists are not only members of the victorious Likud coalition but likely to have influential positions in the new government. As I have written elsewhere, like President Nixon, in the past, Netanyahu had deftly used racist incitements during electoral campaigns but once in office, he has relatively progressive policies towards the demonized population. Nixon enacted substantially progressive race policies while Netanyahu enacted affirmative action policies that enabled Israeli Arabs to gain educational and occupational credentials, and improved infrastructure and government funding in Arab communities. However, it is hard to see how he can duplicate this bait-and-switch again.
What is disheartening is how the hubris of individual oppositional parties is responsible for this current situation. In particular, knowing the dangers of a Likud victory driven by the growing popularity of the most racist elements within the rightwing, all oppositional parties should have sought to maximize their collective electoral strength. Instead, Labor refused to run jointly with Meretz leading to the latter falling short of the 3.25 percent election threshold. Similarly, Balad and Hadash-Ta’al could not agree on a joint slate so ran separately. Then Hadash lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman eulogized Lion’s Den terrorists who were killed by Israeli defense forces in order to win Arab voters away from Balad. While this may have gotten Hadash-Ta’al a fifth Knesset mandate, it was partially responsible for Balad falling just short of the election threshold. If Balad and Meretz votes were not wasted, Netanyahu would have fallen short of the necessary mandates needed for victory.
The real victors are the Palestinian terrorists. The “Change” government had aggressively embraced a strategy “Shrinking the Conflict:” not allowing small flashpoints to fuel larger conflicts. To the chagrin of rightwing Zionists, this strategy has included policies to improve the Palestinian economy: loans to the PA, providing more flexibility to Palestinian businesses, allowing more Palestinians to work within Israel, expanding permits for Palestinian housing, and an unwillingness to evict Bedouin communities from strategic West Bank locations. Within Israel, it has meant seeking compromises on evictions in East Jerusalem and Bedouin areas; and passage of Knesset legislation that would dramatically improve Israel Arab communities, including three new Bedouin towns.
These policies have been successful in weakening East Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinian hostilities towards the Israeli government. In response, many Palestinian nationalists chose to resort to violence, hoping that overreactions by the IDF would enable them to regain allegiances. Within Israel, some members of the Joint List became more openly nationalist, highlighted by Ayman Odeh calling on Israeli Arab police officers to lay down their weapons rather than enforce Israeli policies in East Jerusalem; and most importantly by Palestinian nationalist in Jenin, fomenting violence not only against Israeli forces but Palestinians that dissented from their actions.
Fortunately, the “Shrinking the Conflict” initiatives effectively isolated these nationalist efforts so that East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank have not participated in these anti-Israeli efforts. However, given the pushback from the most anti-Arab forces, it is highly unlikely that Netanyahu can continue this approach even if his was personally inclined to do so. However, by reverting to more heavy-handed policies, it is likely that more Palestinians will support terrorist efforts.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that the Netanyahu coalition will continue funding the new Bedouin towns legislated nor the two hi-tech industrial parks slated for Arab towns. One of them is to be located in Nazareth which by 2019 housed over 950 high-tech employees — compared to just 30 in 2008 — working in firms like Amdocs, Microsoft, Broadcom, and Alpha Omega. There are also some 70 startups operating in the city.
The only way that Netanyahu will resist his anti-Arab coalition partners would be international pressure, particularly the threat of withdrawal from the Abraham Accords by a number of Arab nations. If such pressures materialize and change Netanyahu’s behavior, it would cause a crisis within his coalition, taking all of his substantial political skills to handle. Unfortunately, this scenario is the best we can hope for.