TEL AVIV: A call by a prominent Arab-Israeli politician for possible political cooperation with Netanyahu threatens to divide the Arab Joint List, Israel’s third-largest political bloc, Afif Abu Much, a columnist for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, writes for Axios.
Why it matters: Netanyahu is trying to divide the Joint List in order to decrease its political power and prevent it from tipping the center left into an electoral majority.
Flashback: Israel’s Arab minority had its highest turnout in history during the previous election amid pushback against Netanyahu’s anti-Arab campaigns, earning the Joint List 15 seats in the Knesset.
Driving the news: In recent months, Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Joint List’s Islamist faction — an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood — opened a backchannel to Netanyahu.
When their communications were exposed, Abbas stressed that he didn’t want to be “in the pocket” of the center left, which was reluctant to rely on the support of the Joint List to form a government after the last elections.
Abbas wants the Joint List to focus on socioeconomic issues that concern its voters, place less emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ultimately join a coalition government to get concrete results.
What he’s saying: Abbas said he had no problem cooperating with Netanyahu.
“He is using me, but I am also using him.” — Mansour Abbas on Netanyahu
The state of play: Abbas’ move dramatically raised his public profile, turning him from an anonymous Arab politician to a frequent guest in the television studios.
Abbas received a lot of criticism, but he also changed the political discourse in Israel.
His move created huge tensions inside the Arab Joint List, leading to attacks against Abbas and calls to divide the List ahead of the next elections.
The big picture: The vast majority of Arab voters see Netanyahu in a very negative light as a result of his incitement against the Arab minority and its representatives in the Knesset, whom he called “terror supporters.”
Yes, but: Netanyahu plays a dual game. While publicly attacking the Arab Joint List to rally his base and attack the center left, in private he has always negotiated ad hoc political deals with Arab politicians to ensure his political survival.
What’s next: It is too soon to say if the Arab Joint List is going to divide or not. All of the List’s members remember that when they entered the March 2019 elections divided, the voters punished them with very low turnout. Polls already project the List to lose three or four seats. (Axios)