For the first time in history, the fate of Israel’s next prime minister might be determined by the hands of an Arab minority and its leader. How did Israel reach this point?
One of the most tricky parts of forming a government in the State of Israel is coalition-building. Administration rise and fall just because of a single seat in the Knesset and those lucky enough to survive the initial phase will have to endure the shadow of instability for a while if they are only ahead of their opposition by a small margin. Ideological differences between various factions in Israel have grown so vast in recent years and for that reason rarely a stable government could rule steadily. Even so, since that is the only way forward a “kingmaker” figure or party is the ultimate authority on deciding the victor.
For these past few years the title solely belonged to one man: Avigdor Lieberman, founder of the secular and yet ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu. Being a Russian immigrant himself who fled the horrors of Soviet Union, Lieberman founded the party with the intention of making Russian Jews at home. Due to the high number of immigrants pouring from Russia to Israel, Lieberman has always had a considerable clout within the society. Given the nature of Israel politics, it was only natural for Lieberman to become the de facto “Kingmaker” of Israel. Unfortunately, his uncompromising nature repeatedly prompted him to refuse alliance with Netanyahu, who is allied with the religious ultra-orthodox exempt from military service which Lieberman cannot fathom, and the opposition seen as too compromising and lenient with regards to situations such as those in Jerusalem and West Bank.
Lieberman’s consistently turned down offers from both sides and that alone was enough to alienate both sides who nevertheless wished to address the issues plaguing the country. In the absence of Lieberman’s influence, another unlikely player has joined the fray of the political skirmish in Israel, one that could potentially determine the fate of Israeli government at least for the next term. The United Arab List more commonly referred to as Ra’am in Israel has been propelled into the centre of attention in recent years. Even those following the politics of Israel of course might not be familiar with the name, given the fact that it previously ran on a Balad, Hadash, Ta’al and Ma’an as part of the Joint List. Dissatisfied with how the things turned out by sitting coalitions out, Ra’am has been actively seeking allies as a means to cling to a victor so as to voice their concerns through cooperation rather than opposition.
Despite making up to a fifth of the whole population in the State of Israel, Arab minorities were often sidelined by the conservatives like Netanyahu for years. Likud and other right-wing parties treated them as no better than the enemy’s fifth column and the left only kept them around to keep them docile should the opportunity for a viable solution to the problem of Arabs living in the country present itself. For that reason, Arab minorities never consented to form a coalition with either side. Now however the whole game has changed and for the first time ever both sides need each to secure their agenda. So far, the current head of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, has been unnervingly eager to forge something of an alliance with Netanyahu; supporting him in parliamentary vote and openly professing that he would consider joining him even. Forming a coalition however is a wholly other game, considering that it might cost him the trust people put in him. A dangerous gambit indeed with unforeseen consequences for both, if realized.