What a mess! After four elections in two years, we still don’t have a stable government. And, what’s worse, we don’t know whether any of the major players will be able to put together a coalition government or whether we are headed towards round number five right after the summer months.
For many people reading this, the names of some Israeli politicians and/or the names of the political parties that they head up are of little significance. Most people simply want to know who is going to run the country. Will it continue to be Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, or will it be someone else? As mentioned in the last post a week and a half ago, a number of scenarios are possible, but trying to play “mix and match” requires major compromise, breaking of some campaign promises and swallowing pride. The pursuit of position and power could lead to alliances thought to be impossible, which would be disastrous for the nation as a whole.
Case in point: Mansour Abbas is the head of the Ra’am Party, which broke away from the “Joint List” of Arab parties about five months prior to the last elections and his party succeeded in winning four seats in the next Knesset. Those four votes could actually determine whether a “rightist” or “leftist” coalition government will be established. He has a list of “demands” that need to be met in order for him to support one side or the other in the ongoing drama of who would become the Prime Minister. He met with a number of leaders, including those of the “change bloc”, the anti-Netanyahu factions from the left, right and centrist parties, whose common goal is to oust P.M. Netanyahu. In a recent interview, Abbas said, among other things: “Our red lines are our rights whether national or civilian rights … We don’t negotiate or compromise on these rights. We may not be able to achieve them all, but we will not abandon them.” He added: “Our options are open and we are negotiating with the right and the left … We stand at the same distance from the two camps, and we are the third camp.” Apparently, Ra’am will condition its recommendation on the candidate that commits to providing funding to eliminate crime in communities having a primarily Arab population, as well as amending the controversial Nation-State Law, and increasing the number of Arab workers in the public sector.
It is beyond reason that both the right and the left camps are courting Abbas, a devout Muslim, whom Netanyahu had previously referred to as being “anti-Zionist”. Netanyahu’s present alliance of right-wing religious parties consider the Ra’am party as being anti-Zionist and supportive of “Palestinian” terrorism. Ra’am, for its part, refused to cooperate with one of the right-wing extremist parties. Even if Netanyahu gains the support of the Ra’am party, it still won’t be enough to give him the necessary 61 mandates to form a coalition government. He will need the added support of the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, which holds seven seats and still remains uncommitted.
Immediately prior to his meeting with P.M. Netanyahu today, Bennett said: “We have one goal: to form a good, stable government as quickly as possible [adding] no effort will be spared” in the pursuit of that goal. But, we should not be overly enthusiastic about the outcome of that meeting, as Bennett will also meet tomorrow (Saturday) with Yair Lapid, the leader of the center-left party, Yesh Atid.
But, back to Mansour Abbas and the Ra’am party. A revolution of sorts has taken place in Israeli politics. In a previous election of recent memory, Netanyahu urged Israelis to get out and vote, making the point that “the Arabs are flocking to the polls.” Indeed, when they did so, the Joint List of Arab parties achieved 15 seats in the Knesset. This time, as a result of a low voter turnout, the Joint List succeeded in obtaining only 7 seats, with the break-away party, Ra’am obtaining four. While the Joint List is not even a remote thought to help form a right-wing government, the seemingly insignificant Ra’am party is now poised to determine not only Netanyahu’s fate and that of the identity of the next Prime Minister, but also the nature of the next Israeli government and its identity and ideology for some time into the future. This “upheaval” in political partnering – from both the right (Netanyahu and traditional right-wing parties) and the extreme left (anti-Israel, Arab parties) reflects widespread changes in Israeli-Arab society and attitude over the years. These changes include, among other things, warming of relations with certain Arab countries, a going-nowhere realization concerning the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict (until the Biden administration stepped in) and experiential “partnering” in the health crisis caused by the Corona pandemic.
Adding to the “upheaval” in potential political alliances is the statement from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, head of the ultra-Orthodox-Lithuanian community and spiritual leader of most of members of the United Torah Judaism party. When asked concerning the possibility of the formation of a government that relies either on Arab parties or anti-religious leftist parties, his response was that cooperating with Arab parties who respect religion and values is better than establishing a coalition government with the secular left, who oppress religion.
Mansour Abbas’ language reveals his ultimate purposes. Use of terms like “our red lines” and “our options are open and we are negotiating with the right and the left” should be wake-up calls to our politicians that the goals of the Ra’am party are not national but partisan – just like most of the goals of other political parties, both in Israel and abroad. His party will go in the direction that best serves its restricted goals.
No matter how we view the situation, other political leaders of an “alleged” right-wing party, including Netanyahu and Bennett, that courts a non-Zionist party, whose primary goal is to advance the interests of Muslims is foolhardy, at best, and blatantly hypocritical, at worst.
It could be argued that an alliance with an Arab-Muslim party in an effort to establish a governing coalition in Israel is simply a short-term expediency, motivated by self-interest and political self-preservation. This may be true, but even the attempt to establish such a political coalition flies in the face of Israel’s calling, its establishment and its concerns, if there are concerns, for its future. While the leadership of the Ra’am party claims to have more in common with the Jewish, religious right than with socially-liberal leftist political parties, he also supports the two-state solution, which was declared dead during the Trump administration and now resurrected by the Biden administration. He opposed the normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as a protest against the absence of peace with the so-called “Palestinians”. Only two years ago, Netanyahu was outraged that his political rivals were even thinking of a possible alliance with the Joint List, which at that time included both Abbas and the Ra’am party, referring to them as “a danger to Israel.” Now, that “danger” is poised to become a member of a ruling coalition. The pursuit of position and political power is fogging up the focus regarding our future.
Is a Muslim-backed coalition government the best alternative that this enlightened, but politically-fractured country can offer? Is that better than taking another go at it in a fifth election go-round? We can only imagine what demands will be forthcoming and how much compromise will be required to make such a cut-and-paste government functional. All the political parties need to make their recommendations for Prime Minister to Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, by this coming Monday. And only after that we’ll know who will be given the baton to run against time to try to establish a coalition government. Traditionally, the mandate is awarded to the a party leader whom the President believes has the best chance of forming a government. We’ll know in a few days whether we’ll be moving forward, backward or sideward.
May God grant us wisdom to how to pray, like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.