Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid willing to cooperate with Arab parties

Lapid’s answer is a positive sea-change in the political discourse surrounding the Joint Arab List.

MK YAIR LAPID: Arab parties deserve being part of decision-making process. (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
MK YAIR LAPID: Arab parties deserve being part of decision-making process.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
Given his surprising silence throughout this election campaign, when Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid finally says something substantial, it’s worth paying attention. Asked whether Yesh Atid would work to seek the support of the Joint List of Arab parties in order to form the next government, Lapid simply replied: “Yes, sure. What kind of question is that?”
The sad fact is that in Israel of 2021, more than 70 years after the founding of the state, there are still large pockets of the population unwilling to accept that political parties representing some 20% of the country’s citizens have the right to play a full part in the country’s political system.
For example, following Lapid’s statement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to rush out a video hysterically claiming that Lapid had promised to bring the Joint List into his government. Lapid did nothing of the sort, even taking care to point out that the Joint List did not want to sit in any future coalition (due to their not wanting to share collective responsibility for any Israeli military actions).
The Yesh Atid leader however did insist the Joint List were worthy political partners, deserving of representation on key Knesset committees and being party to the decision-making process, particularly in regard to the problems facing the Arab sector in Israeli society.
That such a view should be seen as controversial and worthy of a prime ministerial attack is a mark of Cain on Israel. It makes the lofty words of the country’s declaration of independence promising “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” ring sadly hollow.
Netanyahu has, at best, a deeply ambivalent relationship with the country’s Arab citizens. This election campaign has been notable for the rare sight of the prime minister visiting Arab cities like Nazareth and calling for a new era of Jewish-Arab relations in the country.
But when the pressure is on and Netanyahu realizes his dream of a 61-seat majority is slipping away, he reverts to type, and goes back to his racist dog whistle “the Arabs are voting in droves” mode.
Behind the scenes, the prime minister has increased his Machiavellian involvement among the Arab electorate, first and foremost doing all he can to splinter the Arab vote. He successfully encouraged Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamic Ra’am Party, to split from the Joint List and run independently.
This is likely to result in the Joint List dropping from its current 15 seats to nine according to the latest polls, with Ra’am not passing the electoral threshold.
The fewer Joint List Knesset members the better as far as Netanyahu is concerned. After the last elections, the Joint List broke with its precedent of not recommending the leader of a Zionist party for prime minister.
Their unusual support for Benny Gantz and increased involvement in the Israeli political system proved crucial in bolstering the anti-Netanyahu bloc in the Knesset, forcing the prime minister to enter in the ill-fated unity government with Blue and White.
Amazingly, for someone for whom cooperating with Israel’s Arab political parties is beyond the pale, Netanyahu has no problem reaching out to the Palestinian Authority he is so fond of demonizing for their help in lobbying Israel’s Arab citizens. According to a report last week,
Fateen Mulla, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, recently met with high-ranking Fatah member Muhammad Madani, a close ally of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss securing PA assistance in encouraging Israeli Arabs to vote for Netanyahu – or at least divert them from backing the Joint List.
One can only imagine the stream of outraged and hate-filled videos and tweets the hypocritical Netanyahu and son would have produced had Lapid sent emissaries to the Palestinian Authority to help Yesh Atid’s campaign among Israel’s Arab voters. Collaborating with the enemy would have been the mildest of charges they would have leveled against him.
But back to Lapid. His willingness to cooperate with the Joint List in forming a government is not something new – he has said the same thing previously – but the matter-of-fact way in which he answered the question is a sea-change for the good in the country’s political discourse.
Lapid ascribes this shift to the effects of coronavirus, arguing that Israelis have increasingly rubbed up against Arab medical staff working in the country’s health system and that this has led to a fundamental change in the way in which Jewish citizens view their Arab counterparts.