Has the experiment of an Arab party in the coalition failed? - analysis

The right-wing and religious parties seem to rejoice at their own conclusion that the “experiment” has “failed,” because they don't really want to see an Arab party, or Arab parties in the coalition.

 Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022 (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

There is little doubt that unless by some miracle the government will manage to pass the bill for extending the emergency regulations (Judea and Samaria – adjudication of offenses and legal assistance, 2022) for another five years, the government will fall, sooner rather than later.

All those who are not among the government’s well-wishers have started to eulogize it, and to arrive at far-reaching conclusions regarding its alleged total failure.

It cannot be disputed that one of the reasons for the government’s expected defeat over this issue results from the fact that when the bill was first brought to the vote in the Knesset plenum last Monday, the members of Ra’am either stayed away from the vote or voted against the bill, and the fact that MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from Meretz voted against, adding insult to injury by performing a thumbs-down gesture while announcing her vote against the bill.

It doesn’t look like the coalition will manage to reverse this situation by July 1, when the previous five-year law will expire, even if by some miracle Zoabi and MK Mazen Ghanaim from Ra’am will be convinced to resign from the Knesset before that date.

However, to conclude from this that the “experiment” of introducing an Arab party into the coalition has failed isn’t really warranted by the facts.

 Mansour Abbas attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Mansour Abbas attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

In the first place, it is not only most of the Arab members of the coalition who are to blame for the current situation. In fact, it is primarily the Likud that is responsible, because even though it has a vested interest in the regulations being renewed every five years, in order to uphold the legal rights under Israeli law of over half a million Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria (nearly all of whom vote for right-wing parties), due to short-term political interests it is following a policy of “cutting their noses off to spite their faces,” and voted against the renewal of the emergency regulation.

If the Likud and its partners will manage to bring down the government over this issue, but will not manage to form an alternative government in the current Knesset (which in all likelihood they will not), in the resulting elections only settlers who have an additional address inside the sovereign territory of the State of Israel will have the right to vote, and this in addition to the total legal havoc that will be created in our apartheid reality, if the law is not renewed.

What happens now?

WHAT WE may conclude from all of this is that the full integration of an Arab party or parties into a government as the balancer that can determine whether the government will continue to be or cease to be, is a dodgy situation, especially when the opposition refuses to play by the rules of the game, under which, in cases related to the state’s existence and its basic well-being, it is expected to vote with the government.

This says nothing about the possibility and/or desirability of forming governments with the participation of Arab parties under more normal conditions. The right-wing and religious parties seem to rejoice at their own conclusion that the “experiment” has “failed,” because they do not really want to see an Arab party, or Arab parties in the government or the coalition – especially if this makes possible an alternative to a Likud -ultra-Orthodox-religious-Zionist government.

The Center-Left, on the other hand, realizes that in order to start to seriously deal with the inherent problems of Israel’s Arab citizens, the Arab parties must be involved in the positive sense, and this can best be done if they are members of the government, or at least of the coalition.

Since expecting Arab MKs to vote for a law intended to facilitate and perpetuate Israel’s presence in the West Bank is tantamount to asking Jewish MKs to vote for a law that recognizes the right of return of Arab refugees to the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, it is clear that a successful integration of the Arab parties into a government or coalition cannot occur at a time when the survival of the government depends on their support for laws such as the renewal of the emergency regulations that the government is trying get through these days.

Whether the inclusion of an Arab party in the “government of change” coalition will be considered a positive or negative experience, only time will tell. The opposition – both Jewish and Arab – has certainly been doing its best to delegitimize the “experiment.”

The Joint List was opposed to Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas’s move of joining the coalition, both for ideological and political reasons associated with the rivalry between the two parliamentary groups.

Leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud and the other members of his bloc have systematically sought to besmirch Abbas personally, referring to him derogatorily as the acting prime minister of Israel, an active supporter of terrorist attacks on Israel, and the personal beneficiary of the NIS 50 billion allocated in the state budget to dealing with the various problems of Arab society over the next five years.

Some of the ugliest attacks have been delivered while Abbas has sat in the plenum as deputy speaker. Undoubtedly, if the Jewish opposition hadn’t blocked the establishment of the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, quite a few of its MKs would be brought before it to be investigated for some of the things said to and about Abbas. The same, incidentally, applies to some of the licentious and libelous things said to and about Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Netanyahu systematically denies that when he was still trying to form a government after the last elections, he held several personal meetings with Abbas, in an attempt to get Ra’am to support the government he was hoping to form. His efforts failed primarily because of the objection of the Religious Zionist Party to join a government in which Ra’am would be associated.

Had Netanyahu succeeded, it would have been interesting to see how he would have coped with situations such as that currently confronted by Bennett. One thing is certain. He would not have faced so vicious an opposition, willing to vote down legislation that it supports ideologically, so that Ra’am would have had much less clout and effect in cases such as the current one.

There Are those who do not only claim that the “experiment” with the Arabs has failed, but consider the whole attempt to run a government made up of a medley of Right/Left/Center and Arab parties, to be an irresponsible experiment that failed.

In fact, when eventually the achievements of this government will be assessed with the benefit of hindsight, the conclusion might well be that its achievements were quite significant in many fields, despite its inherent inner contradictions and the absence of an experienced leader with a solid power base behind him.

In fact, its main failure might prove to be that it did not manage to eradicate some of the most negative manifestations of Bibism, which are now likely to return with greater gusto than ever.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge at the end of July.