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The Ra’am Party’s Catch-22

The Arab parties’ dilemma as to whether to topple the current Israeli government is far more difficult than that faced by the Zionist parties as to whether or not to have an Arab party join the coalition.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center) speaks with Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra'am Party, in the Knesset assembly hall, June 21, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center) speaks with Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra'am Party, in the Knesset assembly hall, June 21, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jalal Bana
Jalal Bana

Today, it is safe to say that the Knesset election campaign has kicked off in the Arab sector. We have seen media leaks and the majority-Arab Joint List and Ra’am parties trade barbs with greater intensity than we have seen between the right and left or the ultra-Orthodox and secular parties.

This is a dramatic week for the Arab parties because one would not have expected the Joint List to vote against a no-confidence motion from the opposition or for Ra’am, a coalition member, to abstain. Yet both happened.

While Ra’am’s abstention was almost openly coordinated with coalition leaders, it was meant to send the message to the Arab public that, regardless of when elections are called, election season has begun.

To date, the coalition has done more to abandon Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas than Abbas has done to abandon the coalition. If Abbas had any intention to quit the government, he would have done so and leveraged the move for political gain after the violent events in Jerusalem in the past month. Yet this is not on the table, as Abbas believes he has yet to obtain a significant achievement for Arab society and is unlikely to do so in the future.

The attempt to bring an Arab party into the coalition has not been a success at this stage; in particular, due to the narrow structure of the coalition government. Such a narrow government does not allow for political maneuvers and threatens to bring about new elections on a weekly basis. It also makes it less likely that Arabs will integrate into Israeli politics. This process should have taken place two decades ago. Since the state was founded, Zionist parties avoided the integration of Arab parties into government coalitions, and Arab parties saw the Israeli government as the institution responsible for discrimination against their constituents. Among both Arabs and Jews, the consensus was one that leaned away from pragmatism.

Nevertheless, Ra’am’s entry into a coalition headed by Naftali Bennett, the former head of the Yesha Council—the umbrella organization of Jewish authorities in Judea and Samaria—who believes in a unified Israel and does not recognize the Palestinians’ rights to a state of their own, was a bold step. At this stage, however, it does not appear possible to implement in full.

The Arab dilemma as to whether to topple the government is also influenced by other factors. The Joint List, for example, fears that if the current government dissolves, it will result in a coalition government headed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in cooperation with far-right Otzma Yehudit party head Itamar Ben-Gvir. On the other hand, if the Joint List provides a lifeline to the current coalition, Ra’am would use this against them in an election campaign.

Jalal Bana is a media adviser and journalist.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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