United Arab List (Ra’am) head Mansour Abbas took a great risk six weeks ago, when he left the Joint List after his demand to seek a partnership with the Right was rejected.
The Arab sector in Israel has consistently seen unity in the sector as a top priority. Breaking that unity could have made him a pariah within his own constituency.
But if all the latest polls are correct, Abbas’s gamble has paid off. They all predict that Ra’am will cross the 3.25% electoral threshold and win four seats.
Those four seats could make Abbas the kingmaker after the election, because he is a political free agent. He could facilitate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming a government, join a coalition led by opposition leader Yair Lapid, cooperate with Gideon Sa’ar or stay in the opposition.
Netanyahu and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett both ruled out relying on Abbas on Tuesday, but they were talking about the government’s formation, which could be months away. Before that comes the quest to receive the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin, and no one will turn away Abbas’s recommendation.
An endorsement from Abbas could be especially helpful for Lapid, because it could help him cross the 40 MK plateau, together with MKs from Yesh Atid, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz. That could compel Yamina and New Hope to supply their 20 MKs and help Lapid earn a majority.
Doubling Sa’ar and Bennett could make Lapid the inevitable candidate of the anti-Netanyahu camp.
It is no wonder that Lapid made a point of meeting with Abbas five weeks ago in Savyon, as Channel 12’s Daphna Liel reported on Tuesday night.
But Ra’am, a conservative Muslim party made up of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, would be a strange bedfellow for Yesh Atid, which is proud of its gay candidates, MKs Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzanu.
Abbas is keeping his cards close to his chest. All he has said is that he would not enable the formation of a government whose coalition includes far right Otzma Yehudit Party head Itamar Ben-Gvir. Netanyahu could choose to take Ra’am instead of Ben-Gvir if the price is right.
Netanyahu said he prefers to attract MKs who would break off from other parties. He said he already has volunteers from New Hope and Yamina. But Ra’am could be cheaper.
In retrospect, Abbas jumping ship from the Joint List could result in him going from pariah to powerful.