Category Archives: The Joint List

Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers” 

We are led to believe that history is being made in Israel following the formation of an ideologically diverse government coalition which, for the first time, includes an Arab party, Ra’am, or the United Arab List.

If we are to accept this logic, the leader of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, is a mover and shaker of history, the same way that Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina Party, and Yair Lapid, the supposed ‘centrist’ of Yesh Atid, are also history makers. How bizarre!

Sensational media headlines and hyperboles aside, Israel’s new government was a desperate attempt by Israeli politicians to dislodge Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from power. While Lapid is fairly new to Israel’s contentious politics, Bennett and Abbas are opportunists, par excellence.

Lapid is a former TV anchorman. Despite his claims to centrist ideologies, his political views are as ‘right’ as they get. The problem is that such characters as Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, and Netanyahu, of course, among others, have relocated the center of Israel’s political spectrum further to the right, to the point that the right became the center and the ultra-right became the right. This is how Israel’s neofascist and extremist politicians managed to become kingmakers in Israel’s politics. Bennett, for example, who in 2013 bragged about “killing lots of Arabs” in his life, is set to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

It is in this strange context that we must understand Mansour Abbas’ position. His meager four seats at the Israeli Knesset made his party critical in forming the coalition that has been purposely created to oust Netanyahu. Ra’am does not represent Israel’s Palestinian Arab communities and, by joining the government, Abbas is certainly not making history in terms of finding common ground between Arabs and Jews in a country that is rightly recognized by Israeli and international human rights groups as an apartheid state.

On the contrary, Abbas is moving against the current of history. At a time that Palestinians throughout historic Palestine – the occupied Palestinian territories and today’s Israel – are finally unifying around a common national narrative, Abbas is insisting on redefining the Palestinian agenda merely to secure a position for himself in Israeli politics – thus, supposedly ‘making history.’

Even before Abbas shook hands with Bennett and other Israeli extremists who advocate the killing of Palestinians as a matter of course, he made it clear that he was willing to join a Netanyahu-led government. This is one of the reasons behind the splintering of the once unified Arab political coalition, known as the Joint List.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu in February, Abbas justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone”,  and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu was largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Palestinian communities seemed entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who was inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance, even if it included Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors. Sadly, though not surprisingly, this has proved to be the case.

Abbas’ position became impossible to sustain in May during the well-coordinated Israeli war in Gaza and the racist attacks on Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and throughout Israel. Even then, when Palestinians were finally able to articulate a common narrative linking the occupation, siege, racism and apartheid in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel together, Abbas insisted on developing a unique position that would allow him to sustain his chances of achieving power at any cost.

Although it was the Palestinian Arab communities that were under systematic attacks carried out by Israeli Jewish mobs and police, Abbas called on his community to “be responsible and behave wisely,” and to “maintain public order and keep the law.” He even parroted similar lines used by right-wing Israeli Jewish politicians, as he claimed that “peaceful popular protests” by Palestinian communities inside Israel have turned “confrontational,” thus creating a moral equilibrium where the victims of racism somehow became responsible for their own plight.

Abbas’ position has not changed since the signing of the coalition deal on June 2. His political narrative is almost apolitical as he insists on reducing the national struggle of the Palestinian people to the mere need for economic development – not fundamentally different from Netanyahu’s own ‘economic peace’ proposal in the past. Worse, Abbas intentionally delinks the state of poverty and under-development in Palestinian communities from state-championed racial discrimination, which constantly underfunds Arab communities while spending exuberant amounts of funds on illegal Jewish settlements that are built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands.

“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serve the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society — planning, the housing crisis and, of course, fighting violence and organized crime,” Abbas said triumphantly on June 2, as if the rooted inequality, including communal violence and organized crime, are not direct results of racism, socio-economic inequality and political alienation and marginalization.

No history has been made by Abbas. He is but an example of the self-serving politician and a direct expression of the endemic disunity in the Palestinian Arab body politic inside Israel.

Sadly, the unprecedented success of the Arab Joint List following the March 2020 elections has now culminated in a tragic end, where the likes of Abbas become the unwelcomed ‘representative’ of a politically conscious and awakened community.

In truth, Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian Arab politician who is willing to find common ground with extremists and proud ‘Arab killers’, only represents himself. The future will attest to this claim.

The post Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers”  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections

A ‘major setback’ was the recurring term in many news headlines reporting on the outcome of Israel’s general elections of March 23. While this depiction specifically referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to secure a decisive victory in the country’s fourth elections in two years, this is only part of the narrative.

Certainly, it was a setback for Netanyahu, who has repeatedly resorted to Israeli voters as a final lifeline in the hope of escaping his ever-growing list of problems – splits within his Likud Party, the constant plotting of his former right coalition partners, his own corruption trials and his lack of political vision that does not cater to his and his family’s interests.

Yet, as was the case in three previous elections, the outcome of the fourth was the same. This time, Netanyahu’s right-wing camp, thus potential government coalition partners, consists of even more ardent right-wing parties, including, aside from the ‘Likud’, which won 30 Knesset seats, ‘Shas’, with 9 seats, ‘United Torah Judaism’ with 7, and ‘Religious Zionism’ with 6. At 52 seats only, Netanyahu’s base is more vulnerable and more extreme than ever before.

‘Yamina’, on the other hand, which emerged with 7 seats, is a logical partner in Netanyahu’s possible coalition. Headed by an ardent right-wing politician, Naftali Bennett, who assumed the role of minister in various Netanyahu-led right-wing coalitions, sits, ideologically speaking, on the right of Netanyahu. A keen politician, Bennett has, for years, tried to escape Netanyahu’s dominance and to eventually claim the leadership of the right. While joining another right-wing coalition, again headed by Netanyahu, is hardly a best-case scenario, Bennett might reluctantly return to the Netanyahu camp for now, because he has no option.

Bennett could, however,  take another radical path, like that taken by former Likudist, Gideon Sa’ar of ‘New Hope’ and Avigdor Lieberman of ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’, ousting Netanyahu, even if the alternative means forming a shaky, short-lived coalition.

Indeed, the anti-Netanyahu camp does not seem to have much in common, neither in terms of politics, ideology nor ethnicity – a crucial component in Israeli politics – than their collective desire to dispose of Netanyahu. If an anti-Netanyahu coalition is, somehow cobbled together – uniting ‘Yesh Atid’ (17 seats), ‘Kahol Lavan’ (8), ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ (7), ‘Labor’ (7), ‘New Hope’ (6), the Arab ‘Joint List’ (6), ‘Meretz’ (6) – the coalition would still fail to reach the required threshold of 61.

To avoid returning to the polls for the fifth time within approximately two years, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would be forced to cross many political red lines. For example, former Netanyahu’s anti-Arab allies, namely Lieberman and Sa’ar, would have to accept joining a coalition that includes the Arab ‘Joint List’. The latter would have to do the same thing, cooperating with political parties with avowedly racist, chauvinistic and anti-peace agendas.

Despite this, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would still fail to secure the needed numbers. At 57 seats, they still need a push either from Bennet’s ‘Yamina’ or Mansour Abbas’ ‘United Arab List (Ra’am)’.

Bennett, known for his ideological rigidity, understands that a coalition with the Arabs and the left could jeopardize his position within his ideological base: the right and the far-right. If he is to join an anti-Netanyahu coalition, it would be for the sole purpose of passing legislation at the Knesset that prevents politicians on trial from participating in elections. This has been Lieberman’s main strategy for quite some time. Once this mission is achieved, these odd coalition partners would pounce on each other to claim Netanyahu’s position at the helm of the right.

For Mansour Abbas’ ‘Ra’am’, however, the story is quite different. Not only did Abbas betray desperately needed Arab unity in the face of an existential threat posed by Israel’s growing anti-Arab politics, he went on to suggest his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition.

However, even for opportunistic Abbas, joining a right-wing coalition with groups that champion such slogans as “Death to the Arabs” can be extremely dangerous. From the perspective of Arabs in Israel, Abbas’ politics already borders on treason. Joining the chauvinistic, violent Kahanists – who ran as part of the ‘Religious Zionism’ list – to form a government that aims at saving Netanyahu’s political career, would place this inexperienced and foolhardy politician in direct confrontation with his own Palestinian Arab community.

Alternatively, Abbas may wish to vote in favor of the anti-Netanyahu coalition as a direct partner, or from the outside. Similar to Bennett, both options would make Abbas a potential kingmaker, an ideal scenario from his point of view and less than ideal from the point of view of a coalition that, if formed, would be unstable.

Consequently, it is hardly sufficient to categorize the outcome of the latest Israeli elections as a ‘setback’ for Netanyahu alone. While that is true, it is also a setback for everyone else. Netanyahu failed to achieve a clear majority, but his enemies, too, failed to make a case to Israeli voters of why Netanyahu should be shunned from politics altogether. The latter remains the uncontested leader of the Israeli right and his Likud party still leads with a 13 seats difference from his closest rival.

Though the center temporarily unified in previous elections in the form of Kahol Lavan (‘Blue and White’), it quickly disintegrated, and this is equally true for the once unified Arab parties. Disuniting just before the fourth elections, these parties squandered Arab votes and, with it, any hope that racist, militaristic and religiously zealot Israeli politics could possibly be fixed from within.

This means that, whether Netanyahu goes or stays, the next Israeli government is likely to remain firmly within the right. Moreover, with or without Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Israel is unlikely to produce a politically unifying figure, one who is capable of redefining the country beyond Netanyahu-style cult of personality.

As for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, dismantling apartheid and, with it, the illegal Jewish settlements, these remain a distant hope, as these subjects were hardly part of the conversation that preceded the last elections.

The post Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel

At a glance, it may appear that the split of Arab political parties in Israel is consistent with a typical pattern of political and ideological divisions which have afflicted the Arab body politic for many years. This time, however, the reasons behind the split are quite different.

As Israel readies for its fourth general elections within two years,  scheduled for March 23, Israel’s Palestinian Arab voters seem to be in a position of power, slated to become the kingmaker in the country’s future coalition government. But something peculiar has happened. The Joint List, which has successfully united the Arab vote in Israel in previous elections, suffered a major setback with the split of the United Arab List (Raam) on February 4.

Raam is the political arm of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. In April 2019, it entered the elections in a joint coalition with the National Democratic Alliance (Balad) Party. In September 2019 and, again, in March 2020, it contested in the general elections as part of the Joint List, an Arab alliance, which, in addition to al-Balad, included the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al).

Despite their ideological divides and different socio-economic visions, Arab parties in Israel have felt that their unity is more urgent than ever before. There are reasons for this.

Israel has been rapidly moving to the right, where ultra-nationalist and religious groups now represent mainstream Israeli politics. The center, which temporarily unified under the banner of Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), has actively promoted a similar discourse to Israel’s traditional right of yesteryears.  Finally, the left has disintegrated, to play an unprecedentedly marginal role with little or no impact on Israeli politics.

As the Israeli right has grown emboldened in recent years, various anti-Arab legislations were passed by the right-dominated Knesset (Parliament). The most obvious example is the ‘Nation-State Law’, which elevated the exclusive identity of Israel as a Jewish State, while devaluing Palestinian Arab rights, religions and language.

In the September 2019 elections, Arab unity finally paid dividends, as the Joint List won 13 of the Knesset’s 120 contested seats. In April 2020, united Arab parties performed even better, emerging, for the first time in Israel’s history, as the country’s third-largest political bloc after Likud and Kahol Lavan.

Clearly, Arab parties were ready to engage in the political process, not as marginal forces but active participants. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, had made several overtures to Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Kahol Lavan. Odeh had reasoned that, with the help of the Joint List, a centrist-led coalition would finally be ready to dislodge right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from power.

Gantz refused to allow Arab parties into his government coalition, preferring instead to seek common ground with his archenemy, Netanyahu. Both formed a unity government in May 2020, which only lasted for seven months.

By refusing to incorporate the Joint List, Gantz took the first step in destroying his own promising centrist coalition, which then included Yesh Atid and Telem. Leaders of the latter two factions officially split soon after Gantz agreed to the Netanyahu union. In the coming March elections, Yesh Atid will be contesting independently, while Telem decided to refrain from entering the election fray altogether so as, reportedly, not to further splinter the opposition’s votes.

From a strategic point of view, this would have been the most opportune moment for the Arab Joint List to finally translate its electoral victories into political success. There is a growing realization that a coalition government in Israel, even if formed, would remain unsustainable without Arab support. Consequently, the country’s leading political camps are openly jockeying to court the Arab vote.

Indeed, Netanyahu, who, in 2015 used fear mongering to rally the right behind him by saying that Arab voters were “heading to the polling stations in droves,’ is now turning around. During a visit to the Arab city of Nazareth on January 13, he claimed that his previous comments were misinterpreted. In other Arab towns, he boasted about his record in support of Arab communities and in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. His anti-Arab rhetoric is currently at an all-time low.

The centrist, Yair Lapid, of Yesh Atid has also shown willingness to work with Arab politicians, stating on January 17 that “It was a loss that we did not do it in the current Knesset,” referring to Gantz’s rejection of Arab endorsement and exclusion of Arabs from the coalition government.

Yet, instead of taking advantage of their electoral success, the Joint List, once again, splintered, or precisely, an important party, Raam, has exited the coalition. This time, however, the fragmentation was not an outcome of ideological differences but the result of the bewildering position of Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas.

In February, Abbas had indicated his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition. He justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone,” and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu is largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Arabs’ future seems entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who is inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance even if it includes Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors.

Israeli right-wing newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, sums up Abbas’ devastating blow to Arab unity just before the elections, with this headline, “Meet Mansour Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unlikely ally”.

According to a recent poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 13, Abbas’ Raam party could potentially control 4 Knesset seats following the March elections. Also plausible, Raam might fail to achieve the required 3.25 percent threshold, thus receiving no political representation whatsoever. Either way, Abbas’ obvious self-serving folly could cost Arab parties a historic and unmatched opportunity to assert themselves as a decisive political force that could challenge Israeli racism and Palestinian Arab marginalization.

Now that all electoral alliances have been finalized, Mansour Abbas has clearly made the wrong choice and, no matter the outcome, he has already lost.

The post Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Israel’s Netanyahu helped break apart the Joint List

For six years the Joint List had served as a beacon of political hope. Not just for the large Palestinian minority in Israel it represented, but also for a global Palestinian audience disillusioned by years of infighting between Fatah and Hamas that has sidelined the national cause.

But last week, the Joint List’s coalition of four Palestinian parties split asunder, weeks ahead of an Israeli general election that will focus on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The List’s component parties, representing a fifth of the Israeli population, had found it impossible to set aside their long-running ideological and tactical differences.

The coalition that broke the mould of Palestinian politics has now broken apart itself, and, according to analysts, the toll is likely to be severe.

Netanyahu’s manipulations

There are at least superficial parallels between the Joint List’s breakup and the ongoing hostility between Fatah and Hamas. On one side, three largely secular parties – Hadash, Taal and Balad – have remained in the List, while the fourth, the United Arab List (UAL), a conservative Islamic party led by Mansour Abbas, is going it alone.

Once again, Israeli actors have played a decisive role in manipulating internal Palestinian divisions. Netanyahu has been widely credited with offering incentives to encourage Abbas to quit the Joint List and form a rival political coalition, one bolstered by the support of popular local politicians.

The rupture in the Joint List, Netanyahu appears to hope, will change the electoral maths in the Israeli parliament and help him foil his corruption trial.

And as Awad Abdelfattah, a former secretary-general of Balad, observed to Middle East Eye, Israel’s four main Palestinian parties – like Fatah and Hamas in the occupied territories – have been unable to find a unifying vision of where Palestinian politics is heading next.

In an era when neither Washington, the Europeans or Arab states are showing the slightest interest in pushing for Palestinian statehood, the Joint List has found itself forced to concentrate on domestic issues. But those have proved far more divisive.

Victim of own success

The Joint List has in many ways been a victim of its own success.

It was born in early 2015 out of crisis. The Netanyahu government had passed legislation raising the electoral threshold specifically to prevent the four Palestinian parties in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, from winning seats individually.

Out of necessity, these very different factions, representing 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, were forced to sit together.

Until the arrival of the List, voter turnout among Palestinian citizens had been in terminal decline. The minority had grown ever-more disenchanted with an Israeli political scene over which its elected representatives had zero influence.

The Joint List instantly reversed that trend.

In the 2015 election it became the third largest party, offering a greater political visibility to the Palestinian minority than ever before. And the List’s personable, conciliatory leader, Ayman Odeh, of the socialist Hadash party, was soon being feted abroad.

But the rapid growth of the Joint List – it won a record 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset in the last election a year ago – was also its undoing.

Netanyahu has spent the last two years desperately trying, and failing, to cobble together a decisive majority government after a series of inconclusive elections. His goal is to pass legislation to block his trial on multiple corruption charges. The Joint List’s sizeable bloc in the Knesset is one significant reason for why success has constantly eluded him.

Netanyahu’s initial instinct was to follow a well-trodden path: incite against the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the hope of dissuading them from voting. He questioned Palestinian citizens’ right to vote, implied that they were stealing the election, and declared that they belonged to a terrorist population. None of it worked.

Instead, Netanyahu inadvertently fired up the Palestinian minority to turn out in ever larger numbers, making it even harder for him to secure a Jewish majority.

Rise in crime

At the same time, however, Palestinians were not just voting against Netanyahu. As Asad Ghanem, a political scientist at Haifa University, noted to MEE, voters wanted the Joint List to use its increased size to elbow its way into an Israeli political arena that had always ignored the Palestinian parties.

Palestinian voters in Israel have highlighted two key, festering issues they expected action on.

One is the refusal by the Israeli authorities to designate public land to Palestinian communities or issue building permits. Both factors have led to massive overcrowding for Palestinian citizens and a plague of illegal building under threat of demolition.

And the other is a rapid growth in criminal gangs in Israel’s Palestinian towns and villages that were sucked into the void left by a mix of negligent and hostile policing. Shootings and murders have rocketed in Palestinian communities, stripping residents of any sense of personal security.

Toxic politics

It was these pressures from their own voters that encouraged the Joint List to abandon its traditional unwillingness to get involved in the political horse-trading between the Jewish parties that follow each election, as the largest factions try to build a government.

After the election last year, the Joint List parties reluctantly backed Benny Gantz, the former military general who oversaw the destruction of Gaza in the 2014 war, because his Blue and White party was the best hope of ousting Netanyahu.

But Netanyahu had used the campaign to make the Joint List toxic for most Jewish voters. He once again incited against the Palestinian minority, arguing that Gantz would form a government by relying on “supporters of terror”, in reference to the List.

The Blue and White leader balked at the Joint List’s support and headed into a coalition with Netanyahu instead.

It is hard to underestimate the damage Gantz’s decision did to the List. Last week’s breakup is its most poisoned fruit – and Netanayhu’s big electoral achievement.

Gantz’s rebuff was especially a slap in the face to Odeh, the secular leader of the Joint List who had pushed the hardest for supporting a Blue and White government. His socialist Hadash party has always prized the idea of Arab-Jewish solidarity and cooperation.

Gantz’s rejection offered an opening to Netanyahu to change his approach to the List. He would now try to kill it through selective kindness.

He drew on his favourite policy to win over Palestinians, whether in Israel or the occupied territories: what he terms “economic peace”. The transactional idea is that he offers small economic incentives in return for political quiescence from Palestinians.

The Nazareth model

Netanyahu’s test bed in Israel for this old-style, patronage politics was Nazareth, where a new mayor, Ali Salam, was elected in 2014 – a break with decades of rule by the socialist Hadash party.

Salam was part of a new wave of populist politicians emerging around the world. Immediately following the US election of 2016, Salam credited himself with being a political mentor to Donald Trump, whom he never met.

Salam sidelined the Palestinian national cause, even rhetorically, and focused on a narrow agenda of cosying up to the Israeli government in the hope of winning favours for his city and prolonging his personal rule.

Netanyahu was keen to win a political ally in Nazareth, the effective capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, and especially one as divisive as Salam. The two were soon flaunting a relationship of mutual convenience.

This, it seems, did not go unnoticed by Abbas, leader of the outgoing UAL party in the Joint List. After Gantz’s rebuff, Abbas began to replicate, on the national stage, the political alliance with Netanyahu fostered locally by Salam in Nazareth.

Odeh, the Joint List’s leader, had accepted the need to make an alliance with Gantz in the hope of gaining political influence, but was rejected.

Abbas pursued a similar logic. As Abdelfattah put it: “His view was, why can’t I do the same and make a deal with Netanyahu? As prime minister, Netanyahu is better placed to deliver than Gantz and needs support to avoid his corruption trial.”

Last October, Abbas revealed how this would work in practice. He used his powers as a deputy Knesset speaker to void a parliamentary vote that had approved a commission of inquiry into Netanyahu over highly damaging allegations in what is known as the “submarine affair”.

Netanyahu is suspected of profiting from a deal for German submarines in defiance of advice from the military. The “submarine affair” has been the main spark for more than a year of anti-Netanyahu protests across Israel.

Behind the scenes, it emerged, Abbas had been cultivating ties with Netanyahu and his advisers. He has repeatedly hinted that he may be willing to vote in favour of an immunity law that would scotch Netanyahu’s trial.

The key reason cited for the collapse of the Joint List negotiations last week was Abbas’ insistence to his coalition partners that they agree to impossible conditions before he would rule out recommending Netanyahu as prime minister.

In return, Netanyahu has built up Abbas as the man he can work with to staunch the crime wave and overcrowding in Palestinian communities.

Additionally, Netanyahu has implied that Abbas is the politician who can cash in on the peace dividend Palestinian citizens will supposedly enjoy as a result of Israel’s warming ties with Arab states through the so-called Abraham Accords.

Unreliable partner

Abbas’ former allies in the Joint List understand that Netanyahu is an entirely unreliable political partner, as he has demonstrated throughout his career and repeatedly in his dealings with Gantz.

Nonetheless, Abbas appears to believe that, on the back of Netanyahu’s implied endorsement, he can build a new conservative, largely Islamic political coalition to rival the Joint List.

His ambition, it seems, is to become an Islamic version of Shas, the Jewish religious party that has long allied with Netanyahu in return for regular concessions on narrow religious interests and socially conservative policies.

Abbas is wooing prominent local politicians, including Nazareth’s Salam, to build up the party’s popular base.

In a move to sow further division and drive a wedge in the Joint List, Netanyahu made a high-profile visit to Nazareth last month that was greeted with large protests. The prime minister declared a “new era in relations between Jews and Arabs”, adding that “Arab citizens should fully be a part of Israeli society.”

Attacking the Joint List, he said: “I am excited to see the huge change that is taking place in the Arab society towards me and the Likud [party] under my leadership. The Arab citizens of Israel, you join the Likud because you want to finally join the ruling party.”

Salam further twisted the knife into the Joint List as he praised Netanyahu: “The entire Arab society is disappointed over what they have given, and about their work and attitude toward their electorate.”

Despite Netanyahu’s promises of greater investment, violence has continued to rip through Palestinian communities during the election campaign. A 22-year-old nursing student was the latest victim last week, shot dead in the crossfire between a local gang and the police in the Palestinian town of Tamra.

Abbas will hope to exploit such violence as further evidence that he will be able to exert real pressure on Netanyahu if the prime minister is politically dependent on a strong Abbas-led party for support.

Duplicitous courtship

Netanyahu has little to lose from a political courtship of Abbas, however duplicitous.

As Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Knesset member, observed to MEE, the split risks damaging all Palestinian politicians. “We promised to fight the Israeli right. If we can’t do that, then why vote for us? Our electorate will head towards the Zionist parties,” she said.

Ghanem, the political analyst, agreed: “Netanyahu is telling the Palestinian public that they don’t need the Arab parties, that they are better off dealing directly with him.”

A recent poll suggested that Netanyahu’s new conciliatory approach might win his Likud up to two extra seats from Palestinian citizens, especially in more marginalised communities in the Negev.

Good vs bad Arabs

But Netanyahu stands to gain, however the Palestinian public in Israel responds.

If it punishes its parties over the split by failing to turn out to vote, the prime minister will benefit from the larger share of ballots cast for Jewish parties.

And if Abbas convinces enough Palestinian citizens that he has the key to unlock Netanyahu’s favours, his party may win a handful of seats – enough to enable Netanyahu to pass an immunity law to stymie his trial.

Last month, Odeh said in a tweet that Netanyahu “will not succeed in dividing us into good and bad Arabs”. And yet, having subverted the Joint List, that is exactly what Netanyahu has already achieved.

Now there are bad Arabs like Odeh and good, responsible ones like Abbas. And Netanyahu will hope to play them off against each other to keep himself in power.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post How Israel’s Netanyahu helped break apart the Joint List first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Country in Turmoil: Why Netanyahu is a Symptom, Not Cause of Israel’s Political Crisis

It is convenient to surmise that Israel’s current political crisis is consistent with the country’s unfailing trajectory of short-lived governments and fractious ruling coalitions. While this view is somewhat defensible, it is also hasty.

Israel is currently at the cusp of a fourth general election in less than two years. Even by Israel’s political standards, this phenomenon is unprecedented, not only in terms of the frequency of how often Israelis vote, but also of the constant shifting in possible coalitions and seemingly strange alliances.

It seems that the only constant in the process of forming coalitions following each election is that Arab parties must not, under any circumstances, be allowed into a future government. Decision-making in Israel has historically been reserved for the country’s Jewish elites. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Even when the Arab parties’ coalition, the Joint List, imposed itself as a possible kingmaker following the September 2019 elections, the centrist Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) list refused to join forces with Arab politicians to oust Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Kahol Lavan’s leader, Benny Gantz, preferred to go back to the polls on March 2 and eventually join forces with his arch-enemy, Netanyahu, than make a single concession to the Joint List.

Gantz’s decision did not only expose how racism occupies a central role in Israeli politics, but also illustrated Gantz’s own foolishness. In rejecting the Joint List, he committed an act akin to political suicide. On the very day, March 26, that he joined a Netanyahu-led coalition, his own Blue and White alliance collapsed, with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon of Telem breaking away immediately from the once-dominant coalition.

Worse, Gantz lost not just the respect of his own political constituency, but of the Israeli public as well. According to an opinion poll released by Israel’s Channel 12 News on December 15, if elections were to be held on that day, Gantz’s Blue and White would receive only 6 seats out of 120 seats available in the Israeli Knesset. Gantz’s former coalition partner, Yesh Atid, according to the same poll, would obtain an impressive 14 seats.

While Netanyahu’s Likud Party will remain on top with 27 seats, Gideon Sa’ar’s “New Hope – Unity for Israel,” would come a close second with 21 seats. Sa’ar’s is a brand new party, which represents the first major split from the Likud since the late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, formed the offshoot Kadima party in 2005.

Netanyahu and Sa’ar have a long history of bad blood between them, and although anything is possible in the formation of Israel’s political alliances, a future right-wing coalition that brings them both together is a dim possibility. If Sa’ar has learned anything from Gantz’s act of political self-mutilation, it is that any coalition with Netanyahu is a grave and costly mistake.

Ideological differences between Netanyahu and Sa’ar are quite minimal. In fact, both are fighting to obtain the vote of essentially the same constituency – although Sa’ar is hoping to extend his appeal to the disgruntled and betrayed Blue and White voters, who are eager to see someone – anyone – oust Netanyahu.

Never in the history of Israel, spanning seven decades, had a single individual served as the focal point of the country’s many political currents. While beloved by some, Netanyahu is much loathed by many, to the extent that entire parties or whole coalitions are formed simply to remove him from politics. That in mind, the majority of Israelis agree that the man is corrupt, as he has been indicted in three separate criminal cases.

However, if this is the case, how is a politically controversial and corrupt leader able to remain at the helm of Israeli politics for over 14 years? The typical answer often alludes to the man’s unmatched skills of manipulation and backdoor shady dealings. In the words of Yossi Verter, writing in the daily Haaretz, Netanyahu is “a first-class master swindler”.

This analysis alone, however, is not enough to explain Netanyahu’s durability as the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister. There is an alternative reading, however, one that is predicated on the fact that Israel has been, for quite some time, navigating uncharted political territories without a specific destination in mind.

Prior to the inception of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948, Israel’s Jewish political elites clashed quite often over the best way to colonize Palestine, how to deal with the British Mandate over the country, among other weighty subjects. These differences, however, largely faded away in 1948, when the newly-founded country unified under the banner of Mapai – the predecessor to Israel’s current Labor party – which dominated Israeli politics for decades.

Mapai’s dominance received a major boost after the Israeli occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967. The building and expansion of more Jewish colonies in the newly-acquired territories breathed life into the mission of Israel’s founding fathers. It was as if Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel, was rediscovered once more.

It was not until 1977 that the erstwhile negligible Israeli right formed a government for the first time in the country’s history. That date also ushered in a new age of political instability, which worsened with time. Still, Israeli politicians remained largely committed to three main causes in this specific order: the Zionist ideology, the party and the politicians’ own interests.

The assassination of the Labor Party leader, Yitzhak Rabin, at the hands of a right-wing Israeli zealot in 1995, was a bloody manifestation of the new era of unprecedented fragmentation that followed. A decade later, when Sharon declared the ‘Disengagement from Gaza’ plan of 2005, he further upset a barely functioning political balance, leading to the formation of Kadima, which threatened to erase the Likud from the political map.

Throughout these turbulent times, Netanyahu was always present, playing the same divisive role, as usual. He led the incitement against Rabin and, later, challenged Sharon over the leadership of the Likud. On the other hand, he was also responsible for resurrecting the Likud and he kept it alive notwithstanding its many ideological, political and leadership crises. The latter fact explains Likud’s loyalty to Netanyahu, despite his corruption, nepotism and dirty politics. They feel that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, the Likud could easily follow the same path of irrelevance or total demise as was the case with the Labor and Kadima parties, respectively.

With none of Israel’s founding fathers alive or relevant in the political arena, it is hard to imagine what course Israel’s future politics will follow. Certainly, the love affair with the settlement enterprise, ‘security’ and war is likely to carry on unhindered, as they are the bread and butter of Israeli politics. Yet, without a clear ideology, especially when combined with the lack of a written Constitution, Israeli politics will remain hostage to the whims of politicians and their personal interests, if not that of Netanyahu, then of someone else.

The post A Country in Turmoil: Why Netanyahu is a Symptom, Not Cause of Israel’s Political Crisis first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Netanyahu Seeks to Smash the Joint List and Cement Permanent Rule by Israel’s Far-Right

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is only weeks away from the scheduled start of his long-awaited corruption trial – the endgame in a series of investigations that have been looming over him for years. As a result, he has been taking extraordinary measures to save his political skin.

One of the most surprising is his moves to get into bed with politicians representing a section of Israeli society he has long characterized as the enemy.

In recent weeks Netanyahu has been working overtime to prise apart the Joint List, a coalition of 15 legislators in the parliament who represent Israel’s large Palestinian minority. In particular, he has been making strenuous overtures to Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, a conservative Islamic party.

This is a dramatic about-face. Netanyahu’s political trademark over the past five years has been incessant incitement against Israel’s Palestinian minority – one in five of the population.

These 1.8 million citizens are the remnants inside Israel of the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom were ethnically cleansed from their homeland in 1948, in events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Netanyahu appears to hope that sabotaging the Joint List will offer him short-term help as he seeks to evade his trial. But there may be a longer-term electoral dividend too. Destroying the Joint List, now the third largest party in the Israeli parliament, would remove the main stumbling block on the path to permanent rule by the far-right coalition he dominates.

Torrent of incitement

Israel’s Palestinian parties – like the minority they represent – have always been regarded as illegitimate political actors within a self-declared Jewish state. Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, regularly depict them as a “fifth column” or “supporters of terror”.

The Palestinian parties have never been invited into any of the regular coalition governments that rule Israel. The closest they have been to power was when they propped up the government of Yitzhak Rabin – very much from the outside – in the early 1990s. Even then the arrangement was implemented out of necessity: it was the only way Rabin could get the “Oslo peace process” legislation through the parliament over the opposition of a majority of Jewish legislators.

But even by Israel’s normal standards of racist disdain towards its Palestinian citizens, Netanyahu has unleashed a torrent of incitement against the minority in recent years as he has struggled to maintain his grip on power.

His fear has been that the Palestinian parties might once again gain a role, as they did under Rabin, of serving as kingmakers, helping to support a government from which he would be excluded.

On the eve of polling in a critical general election in 2015, Netanyahu famously issued a warning to Israeli Jews that the Palestinian public were “coming out to vote in droves”.

And during one of last year’s indecisive elections he sent operatives from his Likud party into polling stations in Palestinian communities armed with body cameras in an effort to “kosher” the result – creating the impression that the Palestinian minority was defrauding the Jewish public.

Netanyahu’s Facebook page also sent out an automated message last year to voters claiming that “the Arabs” – including Palestinian citizens – “want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”.

Falling turnout

Netanyahu’s incitement has had two main goals.

He hoped for a low-turnout among the Palestinian minority – and conversely a strong showing by Likud voters – so that Palestinian parties could not bolster his Jewish opponents in the parliament. Falling turnout had been the long-term trend among Palestinian citizens, with barely half voting in the 2009 election that began Netanyahu’s current consecutive governments.

But the incitement efforts largely backfired, stirring the Palestinian minority to turn out in record numbers this March and rallying their support overwhelmingly to the Joint List rather than more moderate Jewish parties.

But more successfully, Netanyahu has also sought to make the idea of allying with the Joint List so toxic that no rival Jewish party would dare to consider it.

In part because of this, Benny Gantz, a former army general who became leader of the center-right Blue and White party, Israel’s version of a “resistance” party to Netanyahu, threw in his hand and joined the Netanyahu government following the inconclusive results of March’s election rather than work with the Joint List.

In return, he is supposed to become alternate prime minister late next year, though few – including apparently Gantz – think Netanyahu will honor such a handover.

The current wave of mass protests by Israeli Jews against Netanyahu, which have been growing weekly despite fears of the pandemic, reflect the sense of many, especially among Gantz’s supporters, that they have been politically abandoned.

Submarines affair

The issue chiefly driving protesters to the streets is not the boxes of cigars and pink champagne Netanyahu and his wife are accused of treating as bribes from rich businessmen. Nor is it the pressure Netanyahu is alleged to have exerted on media organizations to garner himself better coverage.

What really incenses them is the thought that he played fast and loose with – and possibly profited from – the national security of Israel, in what has become known as the submarines affair.

Evidence has amassed that Netanyahu’s government purchased three submarines and four ships from a German firm in defiance of advice from the military. The attorney general, however, appears to have balked at adding yet another indictment to the charge sheet.

It was precisely over the matter of the submarines deal that the budding romance between Netanyahu and Abbas was cemented last month.

Yariv Levin, speaker of the parliament and Netanyahu’s righthand man, appears to have pressured Abbas, a deputy speaker, into voiding a parliamentary vote Abbas oversaw that narrowly approved a commission of inquiry into the submarines affair. That would have proved disastrous for Netanyahu.

In return, the prime minister appears to have offered Abbas a series of favors.

That has included Netanyahu’s unprecedented appearance last week via Zoom at a meeting of a special parliamentary committee headed by Abbas on tackling the current crime wave in Palestinian communities in Israel.

Netanyahu’s attendance at an obscure committee is unheard of. But his sudden interest in the rocketing number of criminal murders among Israel’s Palestinian minority was hard to swallow. He helped to create the economic and social conditions that have fueled the crime wave, and he has done almost nothing to address the lack of policing that turned Palestinian communities into lawless zones.

‘Peace dividend’?

Abbas, however, hopes to leverage his ties with Netanyahu to his own political benefit, despite deeply antagonizing the rest of the Joint List by doing so.

Netanyahu has publicly argued that Palestinian citizens will feel a peace dividend from Israel’s warming ties to Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He recently told the media: “This revolution that we are carrying out outside of the State of Israel’s borders, we must also carry out within the State of Israel’s borders.”

Abbas has taken credit for Netanyahu’s assurances of an imminent program to improve public safety in Palestinian communities – an issue high on the minority’s agenda.

Netanyahu’s office also recently sent an “official” letter to Abbas confirming plans for large-scale investment in developing Palestinian communities in Israel, allowing the United Arab List leader to claim credit for the initiative.

In fact, the plan was drawn up by Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, and negotiated not with Netanyahu’s Likud party but with a Blue and White minister – part of Gantz’s own cynical efforts to keep Joint List legislators onside in case they are needed in a later push to oust Netanyahu.

Return on investment

Netanyahu hopes for a long-term return on his initial investment in Abbas.

First he may need Abbas’s four seats in his complex coalition arithmetic. If Netanyahu calls another general election – as he is expected to do to avoid implementing the promised hand-over to Gantz, the defense minister, next year – the United Arab List leader could deprive any rival to Netanyahu of the votes needed to oust the prime minister.

And second, Abbas could help Netanyahu either pass or thwart legislative moves related to his trial. Abbas could, for example, block efforts by Netanyahu’s opponents to pass a law banning him from running for prime minister while on trial. Or if Netanyahu succeeds again in exploiting COVID-19 to postpone the legal proceedings against him, Abbas might help him pass a so-called immunity law exempting a sitting prime minister from being put on trial.

Abbas has shocked other Joint List members by hinting in interviews that he might consider voting in Netanyahu’s favor on just such a law.

Abbas, meanwhile, has his own long-term incentives to cultivate this pact. There are already deep tensions within the Joint List that Abbas wishes to exploit for his own ends.

Ideological divisions

The four parties making up the List share limited, if core, concerns about ending both Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians under occupation and Israel’s rampant and systematic discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel that severely degrades their citizenship.

The consensus on these issues has tended to overshadow the parties’ very different, wider ideological positions.

Hadash is a bloc of explicitly socialist groups that emphasize class concerns they believe can unite Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish populations. They have, however, failed dismally to draw poorer Jews away from supporting the right-wing populism of Netanyahu’s Likud.

Balad appeals particularly to a new and aspiring secular middle class that wishes to advance social democratic values that clash with Israel’s Jewish ethnic nationalism. That is one reason why, paradoxically, Balad feels the need to highlight its own community’s Palestinian national identity, as a counterweight.

Abbas’s United Arab List is a socially and culturally conservative Islamic party, but willing to horse-trade on issues that benefit its largely religious constituency. It tends to accentuate its “moderation”, particularly after Netanyahu banned its chief rival, the more politically radical and extra-parliamentary Northern Islamic Movement, in 2015.

Finally, a faction under Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to Yasser Arafat, operates as a more charismatic party, tending to cherry pick policies – and voters – from the three other parties.

Lower votes threshold

None of these parties wishes to be in the Joint List, but they have been forced into an uneasy alliance since the 2015 election by the actions of Avigdor Lieberman, who was then a minister in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Shortly before that election, Lieberman advanced the so-called Threshold Law on behalf of the Israeli right. It lifted the electoral threshold – the point at which parties win seats in the parliament – just high enough to ensure that none of the four Palestinian parties could pass it.

The right had assumed that these parties were so hostile to each other that they would never be able to work together. But faced with electoral oblivion, and pressure from Palestinian voters in Israel, the four factions set aside their differences at the last minute to create the Joint List.

It has proved a success with Palestinian voters in Israel, who turned out in such large numbers that the party has become easily the third largest in the parliament – after Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White. But it has been a rocky ride by all other measurements.

The parties have been contemplating ways to break free of the alliance ever since – and now Abbas may believe he has found an answer. It is rumored – not least by Lieberman, who is now a vocal opponent of Netanyahu – that Netanyahu may agree to lower the threshold again.

That would benefit Abbas, freeing him to desert the Joint List and run on his own party’s platform. Lieberman has claimed that Netanyahu might offer Abbas a post in a future government, making concessions to its Islamic religious demands much as he already does to Jewish religious parties like Shas.

In return, Netanyahu would smash the Joint List apart, and likely see the turnout among a disillusioned Palestinian public drop precipitously, bolstering his far-right coalition by default.

Looking inwards

Why Abbas might play along with this plan is revealed by two related developments that have transformed the political scene for Israel’s Palestinian parties over the last couple of years.

The first is that there has been an almost complete loss of interest – in the west, among the Arab states and, of course, among Israeli Jews – at the deteriorating plight of Palestinians under occupation.

This has left the Palestinian parties in Israel bereft of their traditional role promoting the Palestinian cause, either rhetorically or substantively. There is simply no audience willing to listen to what they have to say on the matter.

That has required the Palestinian parties to quickly reinvent themselves. And that transformation has been further accelerated by changing attitudes among their own voters.

With demands for Israel to end the occupation increasingly off the table, Palestinians inside Israel have preferred to look inwards, addressing their own situation as second and third-class citizens of a Jewish state. If they can’t help their Palestinian kin in the current international climate, many think it would make more sense to pressure Israel to make good on its false claims that they enjoy equal rights with Jewish citizens.

Political influence

The sense that this is a historic moment for the Palestinian minority to take the initiative has been underscored by the spate of inconclusive elections that have made Netanyahu’s grip on power look increasingly shaky. Palestinian citizens have started to wonder whether they can parlay their potential kingmaker status into political influence.

Polls show that Palestinian voters in Israel want their parties to try to elbow their way into mainstream politics any way they can. In one survey last year, 87 percent said they wanted their parties involved in government.

That was one reason why all the Joint List legislators made a historic decision earlier this year, jettisoning their usual indifference to post-election horse-trading by Jewish parties, and backed Gantz as prime minister. He spurned their support and joined Netanyahu’s government.

The reality is that no ruling Jewish party is ever going to invite the Joint List into government, and none of the Palestinian parties – apart from possibly Abbas’s United Arab List – would ever contemplate joining one.

So Netanyahu has seen a chance both to pry apart the Joint List, making the Palestinian vote in Israel once again marginal to his calculations, and to recruit one of its factions into his orbit where he can offer its tidbits in return for support.

Profound crisis

None of this has gone unnoticed by Abbas’s partners. Mtanes Shehadeh, head of Balad, warned that “Netanyahu is trying to disband the Joint List,” using familiar “divide and rule” tactics.

Abbas, however, seems open to such divisions if he can exploit them to his benefit. He has written on Facebook: “We need to decide whether we’re going to serve our community or just grandstand.” He has said elsewhere: “I want to be part of the political game.”

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, he clarified: “What do I have in common with the left? In foreign policy [relating to the occupation] I’m with them, of course – we support the two-state solution. But on religious affairs I’m right wing. I have a lot more in common with [the religious Jewish parties] Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

The paradox is that the Joint List is in profound crisis a few months after it celebrated an unmitigated success at the March election. It received a record number of seats – 15 in the 120-member parliament – having unified the Palestinian minority’s votes. It broke for the first time the taboo among left-wing Israeli Jews on voting for the Joint List. And coalition-building arithmetic, given the Joint List’s status as the third largest party, has pushed the Israeli Jewish political scene into a prolonged upheaval that has Netanyahu finally on the defensive.

But Netanyahu, ever the experienced tactician, has more incentive than ever to play high stakes to keep himself out of jail. With the Joint List as one of the main obstacles to his political survival, he will do whatever it takes to bring the alliance down.

• First published by Mondoweiss

The post Netanyahu Seeks to Smash the Joint List and Cement Permanent Rule by Israel’s Far-Right first appeared on Dissident Voice.