Category Archives: Mansour Abbas

Israel: Racist, violent policing is at the heart of apartheid

Police made sweeping arrests of Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens after protests rocked the country in May during Israel’s 11-day attack on Gaza. Officers were documented beating demonstrators, and in some cases torturing them while in detention. Police also failed to protect the Palestinian minority from planned, vigilante-style attacks by far-right Jewish extremists.

This was the damning verdict of an Amnesty International report published last week. The findings indicate that Israeli police view the country’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population, as an enemy rather than as citizens with a right to protest.

The report echoes what Palestinian leaders in Israel and local human rights groups have long said: that the default policing of the Palestinian community in Israel is racist and violent. It reflects the same values of Jewish supremacism seen in the Israeli army’s brutal treatment of Palestinians under occupation.

The contrast between how police responded to protests by Palestinian citizens and supportive statements from their leaders, on the one hand, and to incitement from Israeli Jewish leaders and a violent backlash from the Jewish extreme right, on the other, is stark indeed.

More than 2,150 arrests were made following May’s inter-communal violence. But according to reports cited by Amnesty, more than 90 percent of those detained were Palestinian – either citizens of Israel or residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

Most face charges unrelated to attacks on people or property, despite how their demonstrations were widely portrayed by police and the Israeli media. Rather, Palestinian protesters were indicted on charges such as “insulting or assaulting a police officer” or “taking part in an illegal gathering” – matters related to the repressive policing faced by the Palestinian minority.

‘Torture room’

Amnesty cites repeated examples of unprovoked police assaults on peaceful protesters in cities such as Nazareth and Haifa. That contrasts with the continuing indulgence by police of provocations by the Jewish far-right, such as their march through Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem on 15 June, during which participants chanted: “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.”

Amnesty also documents testimony that Israeli police beat bound detainees in Nazareth’s police station – setting up what the local legal rights group Adalah has described as an improvised “torture room”.

In addition, a protester in Haifa appears to have been tied to a chair and deprived of sleep for nine days, using torture techniques familiar to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In contrast, Israeli police were alerted in real time to messages from Jewish far-right groups about precise plans to smash up “Arab” shops and assault Palestinian citizens on the street. And yet, police either ignored those warnings or were slow to respond. An investigation by Haaretz has further suggested that police subsequently failed to use film footage to identify these Jewish vigilantes and, as a result, made few arrests.

This picture of police turning a blind eye to planned Jewish violence echoes scenes from the time of the protests. Footage showed police officers allowing armed Jewish thugs – many bused in from settlements – to wander freely around Palestinian neighbourhoods during a curfew on the city of Lod. There was even footage of police and Jewish far-right extremists conducting what looked like joint “operations”, with police throwing stun grenades as Jewish extremists threw stones.

Jewish politicians who incited against the Palestinian minority – from Israel’s former president, Reuven Rivlin, and Lod’s mayor, Yair Revivo, to far-right legislator Itamar Ben-Gvir – have faced no consequences.

Charged with ‘terror acts’

Instead, police arranged what amounted to a provocative, entirely unnecessary assault by special forces on the home of a Palestinian community leader, Kamal al-Khatib, to arrest him. The deputy head of the northern Islamic Movement was charged with supporting terrorism after he expressed pride at what he called the minority’s solidarity with the people of Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem.

And last week, apparently too late for inclusion in the Amnesty report, Israel’s racist policing moved in new directions.

Small numbers of Palestinian citizens suspected of attacking Jews were charged with “terror acts”, in some cases without any physical or DNA evidence tying them to the crime. In several cases, the defendants were indicted based on confessions made after prolonged interrogation by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet.

Israel’s legal system is treating inter-communal violence as an act of terror when Palestinian citizens are involved, and as an ordinary law-and-order issue – assuming it is dealt with at all – when Israeli Jews are involved.

Underlining this distinction is the decision to place Palestinian citizens of Israel under administrative detention, jailing them without charge and not allowing lawyers to see the supposed evidence against their clients. This draconian move – with one such order approved last week by Defence Minister Benny Gantz – is usually reserved for Palestinians under occupation, not Israeli citizens.

Settling scores

In its report, Amnesty pointed to public statements from Israeli police commanders indicating that the current harsh crackdown is really about “settling scores”. And in part, that is true.

Nearly two decades ago, a judicial-led public inquiry concluded that Israeli police treated Palestinian citizens as “the enemy”. Nothing has changed since. Police regard it as their primary job to protect the privileges of the Jewish majority by keeping the Palestinian minority crushed and obedient, as a subordinate community inside a self-declared Jewish state.

The eruption of protests in May, which caught police off-guard, was implicitly a sign that they had failed in that role. Police interpreted the demonstrations as a public humiliation for which “deterrence” needed to be urgently restored.

Israeli politicians, including the then-police minister, Amir Ohana, as well as the Jewish far-right, viewed the protests in much the same light. They argued at the time that police were being held back by legal niceties, and that it was the job of Jewish citizens to back police by taking the law into their own hands.

Yet, the “settling of scores” with the Palestinian minority relates to a separate matter. External observers, such as Amnesty, tend to notice Israel’s racist policing only when direct violence is used against Palestinian citizens. But the Palestinian minority’s experience of discrimination from police is much broader.

For years, the minority has been taking to the streets in large numbers to protest against not only the violent policing of dissent, but a complementary near-absence of policing towards Palestinian communities in Israel when it comes to tackling crime.

The harsh repression seen in recent weeks contrasts strongly with police inaction as a crime wave has swept Palestinian communities, with each year bringing a record number of violent deaths. Both Palestinian and Jewish criminal gangs have exploited the policing void in Palestinian towns and villages, knowing that they are free to act as long as the violence is “Arab-on-Arab”.

Even during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Palestinian community leaders kept up the pressure, leading go-slow convoys of dozens of cars along Israel’s busiest roads to draw attention to Israel’s racist policing priorities.

These presented a different kind of humiliation for police. Unusually, commanders were forced onto the back foot, swallowing unrelenting criticism and condemnation for failing to deal with crime in Palestinian communities. It even became one of the top issues for Palestinian parties in Israel’s string of recent elections.

Now, police are having their moment of revenge. “You want more active policing? We’ll give you more active policing. See how you like this!” seems to be the new message of the mass round-ups.

Jewish supremacism

The reality is that both kinds of policing towards Palestinian citizens – the violent policing of dissent, and the lack of policing of crime – are rooted in the same, ugly ideology of Jewish supremacism.

This is the same supremacism highlighted in a report early this year by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. It broke new ground in the human rights community by explicitly identifying Israel as an apartheid state, one that treats Palestinians as inferior, whether in the occupied territories or inside Israel, and Jews as superior, whether in Israel or in the illegal settlements.

The new Amnesty report is the latest snapshot of a society where everything follows that apartheid logic, including policing. That should surprise no one, because apartheid is, by definition, systematic.

Most Jewish Israelis, whether they identify with the left or right, have shown little interest in the lethal crime wave that for years has washed over Palestinian communities near their own, despite the regular protest campaigns by the Palestinian minority.

And now – through their silence – most ordinary Jewish Israelis and their politicians have demonstrated that they support, or are at least indifferent to, the current crackdown by police on the Palestinian minority. The deeper causes of May’s protests, and the violent backlash from the far right, appear to have provoked little self-reflection.

The Israeli Jewish public seems equally unconcerned by the fact that Jewish far-right thugs have chanted “death to Arabs” on their streets, that videos show police cooperating with those thugs, or that police have been making mass arrests of Palestinian citizens for weeks on end, while failing to search for the Jews who were filmed attacking Palestinians.

Belligerent occupation

The truth is that Israeli police get away with racist, violent policing because wider Israeli Jewish society approves. Police regard themselves as defenders of a Jewish supremacism that many ordinary Jewish citizens see as their birthright.

The Palestinian minority hoped that it had opened a tentative conversation with Israeli Jews both about the responsibilities of police in a state claiming to be a democracy, and about the right of Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens to personal security.

There was much fanfare at Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List becoming last month the first party representing Palestinian citizens to enter an Israeli government coalition, ousting former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power. Like other Palestinian parties, Abbas put changes to the racist police culture in Israel at the top of his platform.

But any signs of progress have been all too readily snuffed out by a reassertion of Jewish supremacism by police and their Jewish far-right allies, and by the silent complicity of wider Israeli Jewish society.

Israel had a chance to address its racist policing policies, but that would have required the difficult work of examining the much wider apartheid structures that underpin them. Instead, most Israeli Jews are happy to reassert the status quo – oppressing all Palestinians under Jewish rule, whether they are subjects of a belligerent occupation or third-class citizens of a Jewish state.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel: Racist, violent policing is at the heart of apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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.

Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them

The photo was unprecedented. It showed Mansour Abbas, leader of an Islamist party for Palestinians in Israel, signing an agreement on Wednesday night to sit in a “government of change” alongside settler leader Naftali Bennett.

Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fervently try to find a way to break up the coalition in the next few days, before a parliamentary vote takes place. But if he fails, it will be the first time in the country’s 73-year history that a party led by a Palestinian citizen has joined – or been allowed to join – an Israeli government.

Aside from the symbolism of the moment, there are no other grounds for celebration. In fact, the involvement of Abbas’s four-member United Arab List in shoring up a majority for a government led by Bennett and Yair Lapid is almost certain to lead to a further deterioration in majority-minority relations.

There will be a reckoning for this moment, and Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population, will once again pay the heaviest price.

The sole reason that this makeshift coalition exists – the only glue holding it together – is the hostility of the various parties towards Netanyahu. In most cases, that is not a hostility towards his political positions; simply towards him personally, and towards the corrupting stranglehold he has exerted on Israel’s political system for the past 12 years.

The “change” referred to by this proposed government coalition begins and ends with the removal of Netanyahu.

Doubly offended

It barely needs stating again that Bennett, who will serve first as prime minister in rotation with Lapid, is even more right wing than Netanyahu. In fact, three of the new coalition’s main parties are at least, if not more, rabidly nationalistic than the Israel’s longtime leader. In any other circumstances, they would be enthusiastically heading into government with his Likud Party.

As Bennett and Mansour huddled inside a hotel near Tel Aviv to sign the coalition agreement as the clock ticked down on Lapid’s mandate to form a government, far-right demonstrators noisily chanted outside that Bennett was joining a “government with terror supporters”.

Much of the ultra-nationalist right is so incensed by Bennett’s actions that he and other members of his Yamina party have been assigned a security detail for fear of an assassination attempt.

No one has forgotten that it was Bennett’s own settler camp that produced Yigal Amir, the man who in 1995 shot dead the then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in a bid to foil the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Amir killed Rabin in large part because the latter was seen to have betrayed the Jewish people by allowing “Arabs” – Palestinian parties in the parliament – to prop up his minority government from outside. They did so to pass legislation necessary to begin implementing the Oslo process.

The chain of events that followed the assassination are well-known. Israelis lurched further rightwards and elected Netanyahu. The Oslo track with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was derailed. A Palestinian intifada erupted. And – coming full circle – Netanyahu returned to power and is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Today’s potential Yigal Amirs are doubly offended by Bennett’s behaviour. They believe he has stabbed the right’s natural leader, Netanyahu, in the back, while at the same time allowing Abbas – seen by the right as Hamas’s man in the Knesset – to dictate policy to the Jewish owners of the land.

Digging in heels

It was notable that Bennett and Abbas were the last to sign the coalition agreement, after both made great play of digging in their heels at the final moment for more concessions. Each risks inflaming their own constituency by being seen to cooperate with the other.

Commentators will try to spin this agreement between a settler leader and the head of an Islamic party as a potential moment of healing after last month’s unprecedented inter-communal fighting inside Israel.

But such a reading is as misleading as the narrative of the recent “Jewish-Arab clashes”. In fact, protests by Palestinian youths against systematic discrimination escalated into confrontations only after Israeli police turned violent and let Jewish gangs take the law into their own hands. Just as the balance of power on the streets was weighted in favour of Jewish vigilantism, so the balance of forces in this new coalition will work solidly against Abbas.

When Bennett spoke publicly on Sunday, as the horse-trading began in earnest behind the scenes, he underscored his credentials as the former head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements. That will be the theme of this proposed “government of change”.

Pact with the ‘devil’

During the coalition-building negotiations, the more moderate Labor and Meretz parties conceded time and again to the demands of the far-right and settler parties on ministerial positions and policy. That is because the moderates have nowhere else to go.

They have built their whole electoral strategy on ousting Netanyahu at any cost, using the anti-Netanyahu street protests of the past two years as their rallying cry. They cannot afford to be seen as missing this opportunity.

By contrast, as the death threats highlight, Bennett has far more to lose. Some 60 percent of his party’s voters recently told pollsters they would not have backed him had they known he would join a coalition with Lapid. Equally at risk are Gideon Saar, whose New Hope party broke away from Likud to challenge Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman, a settler politician whose right-wing base has found in him their local strongman.

These three must now do everything in their power during the term of this new government – if it happens – to prove to their constituencies that they are not betraying the far-right’s favourite causes, from settlements to annexation. Baiting them from the sidelines at every turn will be Netanyahu, stirring up passions on the right – at least until he is forced to step down, either by his party or by a verdict against him in his current corruption trial.

The Achilles heel Netanyahu will keep prodding as viciously as he can is the fact that his rivals on the right have made a Faustian pact with the Arab “devil”. Netanyahu has never been shy to incite against the Palestinian minority. To imagine he will restrain himself this time is fanciful.

Bennett understands the danger, which is why he tried to legitimise his dealings with Abbas on Thursday by calling him “a brave leader”. But Bennett was also keen to emphasise that Abbas would not be involved in any security matters and that he was not interested in “nationalism” – in this case, indicating that Abbas will neither offer support to Palestinians under occupation nor seek to advance national rights for Palestinian citizens of the kind Israeli Jews enjoy.

Early on Thursday, Netanyahu had decried the new coalition as “dangerous” and “left wing”. He will most likely be in the driving seat, even while in opposition. Far from healing the country, a “government of change” could rapidly provoke yet more street violence, especially if Netanyahu believes such a deterioration would weaken Bennett as prime minister.

Extracting benefits

Abbas, the United Arab List leader, reportedly held out until last before signing. His whole electoral strategy was built on a promise to end the permanent exclusion of Palestinian parties from Israel’s national politics. He will be keen to show how many benefits he can extract from his role inside government – even if most are privileges the Jewish majority has always enjoyed by right.

Abbas trumpeted that the agreement would “provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society – planning, the housing crisis, and, of course, fighting violence and organised crime”. He has reportedly secured some $16bn in extra budgets for development and infrastructure, and three of the many Bedouin villages the state has long refused to recognise will be given legal status.

Abbas is also pushing for the repeal of a 2017 law that makes tens of thousands of homes in Palestinian communities inside Israel vulnerable to demolition.

One of his fellow legislators, Walid Taha, observed of the United Arab List’s new role: “For decades, Arab Israelis [Palestinian citizens] have been without any influence. Now, everyone knows that we’re the deciding votes as far as politics goes.”

Abbas has every incentive to use such claims as a whip to beat his rivals in the Joint List, a coalition of several other Palestinian parties that are staying in opposition. He needs to emphasise his role in bringing about change to make them look weak and irrelevant.

Hostility and disdain

But despite the promises that lured Abbas into the new government, he will face a rough ride getting any of them translated into tangible changes on the ground.

Lapid will be busy as foreign minister, selling this as a new era in Israeli politics. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, the current defence minister who just oversaw the destruction yet again of Gaza, will offer continuity.

Back home, the key internal ministries will be held by the far-right. Lieberman will control the purse strings through the finance ministry, directing funds to settlements before Palestinian communities inside Israel. Bennett’s partner, Ayelet Shaked, will be interior minister, meaning the settlements in the occupied West Bank will be treated as more integral to Israel than the communities of Palestinian citizens. And Saar will be justice minister, helping to drive the legal system even further to the right.

Faced with this bloc, all of them keen to be seen as upholding the values of the right, Abbas will struggle to make any progress. And that is without considering the situation he will find himself in if Bennett pushes for annexation of the West Bank, or authorises another police invasion of al-Aqsa, or oversees the expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, or launches a fresh attack on Gaza.

Abbas put the coalition negotiations on pause during Israel’s assault on Gaza last month. He won’t be able to do the same from inside the government. He will be directly implicated.

As a result, Palestinian citizens are likely to end up growing even more disillusioned with a political system that has always treated them with a mix of hostility and disdain. They will finally have representatives inside government, but will continue to be very much outside of it. The triggers for the protests that erupted among young Palestinians in Israel last month are not going away.

The most likely scenario over the coming months is that Netanyahu and Bennett will engage in a furious competition for who deserves the title of champion of the right. Netanyahu will seek to break apart the coalition as quickly as possible by inciting against Abbas and the Palestinian minority, so he has another shot at power. In turn, Bennett will try to pressure Likud to abandon Netanyahu so that Bennett can collapse the “government of change” as quickly as possible and rejoin a large majority, far-right government with Likud.

Rifts will not be healed; coexistence will not be revived. But the preeminence of the ultra-nationalist right – with or without Netanyahu – will be restored.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel’s new government will deepen rifts, not heal them 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.