Israel is ready for an Arab party in the governing coalition - editorial

More than a fifth of Israel’s nine million citizens are Arabs, and there is every reason to include an Arab party in the new coalition.

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
After Israel’s election on March 2, 2020, Ayman Odeh’s Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties made history when it informed President Reuven Rivlin that its record number of 15 Knesset members would back Blue and White leader Benny Gantz as prime minister.
A year later, the landscape of the Arab parties has been drastically altered. Ahead of the March 23 election, Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party left the Joint List alliance to campaign on its own.
Ra’am won an unexpected four seats, while the Joint List slumped to six. As coalition negotiations move into full gear, Ra’am is now being courted by the political blocs on the Left and the Right.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc won 59 seats in the 120-seat Knesset – including Yamina and excluding Ra’am – two short of a majority. The so-called “change camp” would have a majority of 61 MKs – with Ra’am and without Yamina.
Abbas has the potential of being a kingmaker by either joining either governing coalition or backing it from outside. This presents a major shift from the historical makeup of the governing coalitions in Israel since its founding.
As long as Abbas’s party – and the Joint List for that matter – supports the State of Israel and works in the interests of its citizens, why not?
It is incumbent on all political parties to remember that for all its flaws, Israel remains a vibrant democracy whose new government and Knesset should represent all its people. More than a fifth of Israel’s nine million citizens are Arabs, and there is every reason to include an Arab party in the new coalition.
Abbas himself has indicated that he would be willing to play ball.
“Most of the time, the Arab parties automatically are part of the Left, without considering key issues,” Abbas told The Jerusalem Post in December. “We need to reposition ourselves toward the entire Israeli political spectrum and not one side. We are not in the pockets of the Left or the Right. We need to act within the interests of the Arab society that chose us.”
Abbas said he believed that the only way for Arab citizens to secure government support in their fight for funding against the main problems facing the Arab community – including poverty, gang violence and housing restrictions – is to be part of the government.
It should be noted that neither Ra’am nor the Joint List is a beacon of democracy. Ra’am, the political wing of the Southern Branch of the Islamic movement, follows an ultra-conservative ideology and is virulently anti-gay. And after the Joint List – comprising Balad, Hadash, Ta’al and Ma’an – announced before the election that it would not share votes with any Zionist party, Meretz officials accused it of choosing nationalism and separatism over Jewish-Arab solidarity.
Netanyahu ruled out the idea of Ra’am joining a government in his election campaign, calling the party anti-Zionist, but did not rule out “parliamentary cooperation.” And some Likud lawmakers – including former communications minister Ayoub Kara, who met with Abbas on Saturday – have come out in favor of bringing Ra’am into a Likud-led coalition.
“There is a difference between the Joint List that cut off the Arab public from Israel and the new pragmatic Ra’am that doesn’t deny Israel’s existence and wants to be a partner in national decisions,” Kara tweeted.
After four consecutive elections, though, there needs to be a meaningful change in Israel’s democratic system. The ultimate vision should be full equality for all its citizens and the integration of all its communities. It is with this in mind that we support the idea of  including an Arab party for the first time in the Jewish state’s history of almost 73 years – as long it supports the basic tenets upon which Israel was founded.