Arab-Israelis now face a Solomonic choice of advancing their own domestic agenda by joining a government coalition or by refusing to do so by insisting on a two-state resolution at the pre-1967 lines.
The phrase that politics makes strange bedfellows has never been more true than when viewing the coalition possibilities available to prime ministerial hopefuls who must form a 61-seat coalition to govern.
Gone are the neat Left and Right blocs. Any coalition possibility, save one, would truly be like the lion lying down with the lamb.
There is no topic for which this is more true than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s a sign of how unlikely a peace process seems that politicians are now debating a government with politicians on the Left who want two-states at the pre-1967 lines and those on the Right who do not believe in a Palestinian state at all.
The election might have given right-wing and Center-Right parties 72 seats; enough to advance any right-wing agenda. Diplomatic constraints and internal divisions on the Right have made that impossible.
Political hatred of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu across the board, however, has therefore divided the map into those who hate Bibi and those who love him.
The anti-and pro-Netanyahu calibration, however is likely to stymie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, irrespective of whether the right-wing Netanyahu or the Center-Left Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid forms a government.
Both Netanyahu and Lapid fall short within their own camps and the kingmakers are on the extreme Right and Left of the map. The pressure is on because no one wants to head to a fifth cycle of elections within a three year span.
The chief kingmaker is the United Arab List’s (Ra’am) head Mansour Abbas, who has indicated his willingness to sit in, or to support from the outside, a coalition led either by Netanyahu or Lapid. The other Arab-Israeli party – the Joint List – is also willing to do this with Lapid, who could similarly be dependent on its seats.
It’s historic moment for Arab-Israeli parties typically isolated in the periphery of the political map, which have already indicated that they would not make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of their red lines.
Here are six reasons they are free to temporarily place the conflict on the back burner.
Almost no support for ’67 lines
If one thinks of the elections as a reflection of the country’s ideological beliefs, then there is almost no support for a two-state resolution at the pre-1967 lines.
Only three parties support that position, Ra’am, the Joint List and Meretz. Between them they have only 16 seats. This means that 104 seats have gone to parties which oppose the 1967 lines as the boundaries of a two-state resolution to the conflict.
This means that from the start, Ra’am and the Joint List have little support for any hard-line demand for a two-state resolution at the pre-1967 lines.
Even a scenario of two-states based on the settlement blocs, would only muster an additional 32 seats: Yesh Atid with its 17 seats, Blue and White with 8 and Labor with 7, and even then, Blue and White might want Israel to retain additional territory beyond the settlement blocs.
Yamina, New Hope can block a Palestinian state
The Ra’am Party is not the only kingmaker in town.
Neither Netanyahu or Lapid can form a government without at least one, if not both, of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties.
Neither party supports a Palestinian state, even a demilitarized one. One, if not both, could be in either a Lapid- or Netanyahu-led government. They would effectively block any two-state initiative from moving forward, thereby making any chance of such a final status resolution to the conflict almost impossible for either a Lapid- or Netanyahu-led government.
A Lapid government is likely temporary
Lapid’s bloc of left-wing and centrist parties that are more compatible ideologically – Yesh Atid at 17, Blue and White at eight, Labor at seven, Meretz at six – comes out to only 38 seats.
Lapid would have to turn rightward, looking at the Center-Right party of Yisrael Beytenu at seven and the right-wing parties of Yamina, also at seven, and New Hope at six to form a coalition; and even then would only have a total of 59 seats, two short of what is needed.
He would then need to consider at least one of the Arab-Israeli parties. Even if he went the other way and formed a government with both the Arab-Israeli parties, he would need some combination of Center-Right and right-wing parties.
Such a government made up by parties with such diametrically opposite agendas, bound only by a joint desire to oust Netanyahu. A Lapid-led government, therefore is not predicted to last long enough to even engage in a peace process.
So no need to be overly concerned about its platform.
Later, in the next round of elections when it matters more, they can make that a red-line demand, rather than wasting on a government likely to fall apart within months.
Netanyahu has outside support from the Right
The largest ideological bloc is on the Right and not the Left of the political map. The election left Israel with a 72-seat bloc of politicians who largely agree on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This includes Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the Religious Zionist Party, Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu.
Netanyahu’s issues are that three of the right-wing and Center-Right parties don’t want to sit in his government, a move which leaves him short of the necessary 61 seats. Here is hoping to sway Yamina to join his coalition and to rely on Ra’am either from inside or outside the coalition.
Here, Ra’am would make the most active trade, because it would prop up a government that could unofficially rely on Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu to advance a right-wing agenda. But its also a government more unified ideologically that could be in place long enough so that it could produce results because the parties within it, save for Ra’am, would be more or less aligned
Right likely to be constrained diplomatically
Ra’am can’t sway a Netanyahu led government to adopt its agenda with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it also doesn’t have to worry about preventing major right-wing initiatives either.
Netanyahu’s hands are tied diplomatically irrespective of the make-up of his government. He already agreed last year to suspend his drive to annex West Bank settlements in exchange for normalized ties with Arab states under the rubric of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. All right-wing parties, save for the Religious Zionist Party, have agreed to honor this suspension.
Concern for US President Joe Biden’s reaction would also likely act as a constraining factor with respect to actions in the West Bank, particularly settlement building. The Biden administration has also spoken out against Israeli unilateral steps, including settlement building and the demolition of Palestinian homes.
There is no active peace process
Israeli-Palestinian talks have been frozen since 2014. Former US president Donald Trump’s 2020 plan for two states was rejected by the Palestinians and shelved by the Biden administration.
The US has traditionally been the main broker of any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Since taking office in January, however, Biden has not put forward any plan nor has he promised to do so. The issue has appeared to be on his back burner, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. US officials speak of the importance of preserving the option for a two-state solution, but it is presumed they will not do so in the near future.
Even if Biden had a peace plan in his pocket and there was an Israeli leader ready to move on it, the situation would be on hold because the Palestinians in July are holding their first leadership elections since 2005. It could mark the end of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ 16-year rule.
The outcome of those elections as well as the ones for the Palestinian Legislative Council in May, would be significant in setting the course for any future peace process and nothing will happen until they are completed.
It would be hard for Arab-Israeli politicians for whom the current political stalemate in Israel offers an unprecedented window to advance domestic issues, to fall on their swords on behalf of a process for which there is no plan, no vision and no leadership for such a plan.
Insisting on a two-state solution now would be akin to inviting guests to dinner when the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards are bare.