An Arab party could choose next PM of Israel after tight vote



File photo : Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am-Balad party hold a press conference after a meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019, as Rivlin began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government after the results of the country’s general election were announced a few days ago. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash

JERUSALEM (AP) — After a hard-fought election, an Arab Islamist could choose Israel’s next prime minister.

You read that correctly.

Tuesday’s elections have left a razor-thin margin between a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a diverse array of parties bent on ousting him. 

To prevail, each side may need the support of an Arab Islamist party that appears to have clinched just five seats in the 120-member Knesset but is not committed to either, according to near-final results.

That means the United Arab List, known by the Hebrew name Ra’am, could decide whether Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, remains in office.

It’s an odd predicament for Netanyahu, who rose to power by rejecting compromise with the Palestinians and has used racist rhetoric in past campaigns to cast the country’s Arab minority as a fifth column of terrorist sympathizers.

This time, however, in Israel’s fourth elections in two years, Netanyahu sought Arab support in what many saw as a two-pronged strategy aimed at picking up votes and splitting the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties that won a record 15 seats in elections last year.

If so, he succeeded, convincing Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, to run a separate list. Now Abbas appears to hold the keys to the kingdom.

Israelis vote for party lists rather than individual candidates, and seats are apportioned out based on the percentage of votes received. No single party has ever won a 61-seat majority, so larger parties must assemble governing coalitions — often with fringe parties. 

With around 88% of votes counted, Netanyahu and his natural allies, and the bloc opposing him, each lack a 61-seat majority in the Knesset. 

Unless another party decides to switch sides, each would need Abbas’ support to form a government and avoid yet another round of elections.

Unlike other Arab leaders, Abbas has not ruled out working with the Likud or other right-wing parties if he can secure gains for the Arab community, which faces widespread discrimination, mounting poverty amid the coronavirus pandemic and a wave of violent crime.

Arab parties have never asked to serve in an Israeli government or been invited to do so. Abbas could break with that tradition, potentially requesting a Cabinet post in return for his support. More likely, he would not hold an official post, but instead support the coalition from outside the government in return for greater public investment in housing, infrastructure and law enforcement in Arab communities.

In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, Abbas reiterated that he did not rule out joining either side and hinted at bolder ambitions. “We want to use not only parliamentary tools, but Cabinet tools to accomplish things for the benefit of Arab society,” he said.

That may be difficult to pull off. Netanyahu’s coalition would also have to include the Religious Zionist Party, whose leading candidates are openly racist. The differences between Abbas and the far-right group would be difficult to bridge. 

In a TV interview Wednesday, Abbas said the Religious Zionists were “not the address” for solving the political standoff.

There’s also a chance that Naftali Bennett, a right-wing leader who also remains uncommitted, throws his support behind the anti-Netanyahu bloc. In that case, it could dispense with the UAL if it maintained the support of the larger Arab Joint List. Netanyahu could also potentially form a coalition without the UAL if he convinces members of the other bloc to defect. 

Abbas hails from the Islamic Movement, which was established in 1971 along the lines of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood group. Its primary aim is the Islamization of Arab society, which it pursues through religious outreach and a vast network of charities.

The group split into two branches in 1996 over the question of whether to participate in politics.

The more radical northern branch, led by the firebrand cleric Raed Salah, rejects participation in Israeli politics and has been accused of having close ties to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that also emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. Salah has been arrested on a number of occasions, and is currently in jail after being convicted of inciting terrorism. Israel outlawed his group in 2015, accusing it of inciting violence. 

The southern branch, to which Abbas belongs, has adopted a conciliatory stance toward Israel and is focused more on socio-economic issues than the conflict with the Palestinians. It has allied with secular and left-wing Arab parties in past elections, but has broken with them on issues related to its religious conservatism, such as support for LGBTQ rights.

Arabs make up around 20% of Israel’s population of 9.3 million. They have citizenship, speak fluent Hebrew and are well-represented in the medical profession and at universities.

But they face widespread discrimination in housing and public services. In recent years they have held regular protests condemning violent crime and accusing Israeli authorities of failing to do enough to protect their communities, allegations rejected by the police.

Israel’s Arab citizens have close family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and largely identify with the Palestinian cause. That has led many Israeli Jews to view them with suspicion, something Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders have capitalized on in previous elections.

Ahead of polls in 2015, Netanyahu drew criticism after warning his supporters that Arabs were voting “in droves.” In 2019 he pushed for the placement of observers and cameras at polling stations in Arab areas, which critics said was an attempt to intimidate voters.

It remains to be seen whether those remarks will come back to haunt him.

Another victory would extend his 12 years in power — already the longest in Israeli history. Defeat would likely mean the end of his political career and leave him increasingly vulnerable to prosecution and potentially jail time as his trial on corruption charges proceeds. Or the country could plunge into another election campaign, prolonging two years of deadlock.

Abbas could decide which path awaits.




6 responses to “An Arab party could choose next PM of Israel after tight vote”

  1. Es gibt kein Normalität mehr Avatar
    Es gibt kein Normalität mehr

    FAKE ? ?
    United Arab List Leader Agrees to Support Netanyahu If He Admits Falafel Not an ‘Israeli’ Food
    by Roger Pumper
    Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List and a potential kingmaker in the coalition-building process, has agreed to support Prime Minister Benjamin
    ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu under one condition: Netanyahu must publicly acknowledge that neither falafel nor hummus are ‘Israeli’ foods.

    Abbas says he will support whichever candidate is willing to stand in front of the Knesset and state, “Both falafel and hummus are examples of Palestinian cuisine, which Israeli Jews have appropriated and now cook in a blander form.”

    “I don’t care what Bibi does with Covid, the economy, or the West Bank,” Abbas continued. “He just has to make that statement.”

    Netanyahu, who is eager to stay in power as he faces ongoing corruption charges, is reportedly open to accommodating the Arab leader’s request. But Netanyahu also faces internal pressure, as several of his presumed coalition partners now say they will pull their support if he renounces Israel’s claim to the chickpea-based dishes.

    “Our Jewish great-great-great grandfathers invented falafel while they were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt,” Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, proclaimed. “I will not play any part in abandoning 3,500 years of Jewish culinary history.”


  2. Es gibt kein Normalität mehr Avatar
    Es gibt kein Normalität mehr

    An Arab party could choose next PM of Israel after tight vote.
    Never happened before.
    It’s embarrassing hilarious!

  3. Es gibt kein Normalität mehr Avatar
    Es gibt kein Normalität mehr

    He has the same last name and initials as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – but politically, Mansour Abbas is closer to the Islamist party Hamas than the president’s Fatah party.

    His party, the United Arab List – or Ra’am as it is also called in Israel – broke away from the Israeli-Arab party alliance Joint List in January to go its own way.
    With only 7,000 votes more than what was needed to cross the threshold into parliament, the Knesset, the party won 4 seats.

    It may seem strange that a 47-year-old Islamist from Galilee is running in an Israeli election at all.
    But Mansour Abbas has long advocated greater political integration of Arabs into Israeli society and also called on them to vote for Jewish parties.
    A fundamental reason for this is that Mansour Abbas wants to improve the living conditions of the country’s Arabs. They make up 21 percent of Israel’s population and live mainly in Arab-dominated cities, which are often disadvantaged.
    Eight of Israel’s ten poorest cities are Arab.

    Just two years ago, the Likud party succeeded in getting the Electoral Commission to stop Mansour Abbas and his party from running in the election together with another Arab party.
    “Those who support terrorism should not sit in the Israeli Knesset!” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter at the time, but the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Electoral Commission.

    ❕ Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the Jewish power, has already made it clear that it is not possible to cooperate with anyone who claims to support Hamas. Similarly, one of Mansour Abbas’ party comrades has made it clear that it is impossible to cooperate with a government involving Jewish power.❗

  4. Es gibt kein Normalität mehr Avatar
    Es gibt kein Normalität mehr

    Es gibt kein Normalität mehr indeed there is no longer normal when Orthodox Jews Prefer Arabs to Leftists!
    In dramatic shift, nation’s top rabbi says it’s more natural for Orthodox Jews to ally with Islamists than with leftist Israelis. (source:

    That’s why Gideon Sa’ar slammed Binyamin Netanyahu for not convening the government to appoint Benny Gantz as Justice Minister Gantz’s term as interim minister expires today.

    ”A State Without a Justice Minister – This is a continuation of the campaign to dismantle the state and its institutions by Netanyahu. Netanyahu is not from the national camp. He is an anti-national who prefers his personal well-being to the well-being of the state,” Sa’ar said. (source: Arutz Sheva)

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