United Arab List has no place in Israeli coalition government, analysts say

Lamis El Sharqawy, Wednesday 28 Apr 2021

Mansour Abbas
Mansour Abbas AFP

Speculations are being made that Israel might be forced to make an agreement between the United Arab List (UAL) and a right-wing party, after a fourth election in two years ended in a stalemate with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his contenders being able to form a coalition government, raising fears that Israel may head to a fifth round of elections.

However, one analyst believes that “there will not be a fifth round, nor is the UAL likely to participate in the government coalition.”

Netanyahu’s bloc, which has failed to win 61 seats in the Knesset, needs to form a government before 4 May. Winning 52 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the pro-Netanyahu bloc still needs the right-wing Yamina Party led by Naftali Bennett, which has seven seats, to join it.

“Netanyahu has less than two weeks to install a government if he can convince Naftali Bennett join the coalition, changing its map, as a first scenario,” said Mansour Nasasra, a lecturer in Middle East politics and international relations at the Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

However, Netanyahu will still need two more seats in parliament to be able to form a government. 

With this impasse, Netanyahu will have to seek support from the UAL, also known as Ra’am, headed led by Mansour Abbas, whose party has secured four seats.

Declining to accept cooperation with Netanyahu to form a government, Bennett said in recent statements that he would act to form a national unity government if Netanyahu fails to put together a right-wing coalition in the next two weeks, before his mandate to do so expires.

“This takes us to the next scenario: the possible role of Mansour Abbas and the UAL,” Nasasra told Ahram Online. 

“Although the UAL has attempted to present a different narrative from that adopted before its split from the Joint Arab list, which aims to affect the Israeli political arena, there still isn’t any clear reflection on Israeli politics. This is particularly since we see complete opposition from Smotrich against the UAL joining a government coalition,” said Nasasra.

The UAL has many demands from the Israeli government, like repealing the Kaminitz Law, which targets the demolition of Arab homes in Palestine, and the Jewish nation-state law, which excludes Palestinians living in Israel and marginalises their political and social role in the country.

“There are clear demands on the level of the Palestinian file which won’t be easily answered at the hands of the Netanyahu government,” Nasasra stated. 

The right-wing Religious Zionist Party headed by Bezalel Smotrich, which won six seats and has joined the Netanyahu government, has also staunchly rejected forming an alliance with Ra’am.

“Take it out of your heads. A right-wing government will not be formed with the support of Abbas,” Smotrich tweeted on Thursday, adding that “it will never happen."

“I rule out at this stage any role for the UAL in Netanyahu's coalition. They offered everything they have, but there is counter rhetoric by Smotrich and the extreme right-wing that there is no possibility to include Abbas and the UAL,” added Nasasra.

“[The UAL] plays an important role in Israeli politics, but when the matter reaches a final decision, there will be no place for the UAL,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Likud approved this week forming a new committee to look after the Arab Community in Israel, which will be led by Abbas, a move that will help the Likud gain more seats for the formation of the coalition. 

However, the level of power the new committee will have is not yet known, or whether it will be permanent or temporary. 

Regarding the possibility of holding a fifth round of elections, Nasasra said, “Netanyahu still has some options available, despite all the complications.”

“There is a scenario where he can reach an agreement with Bennett with two other members from any party, and it will make Bennett the strongest man with access to high profile ministries like the defence and justice.” 

About the other scenario, Nasasra said, “If the political wheel does not move in this way, Yair Lapid will take the opportunity of the government formation.”

“In the end, I don’t expect a fifth round. The Israeli public does not want it,” Nasasra said. 

Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst on Israel and Palestine at the International Crisis Group, also said that the next phase seems likely to see Bennet and Lapid forming a coalition and avoiding a fifth round of elections. She assessed that the coalition’s stability remains unclear, as “it would only constitute 58 parliamentary seats and would have to rely on UAL support from outside the coalition.”

“I don’t expect the UAL will enter a governing coalition; no Arab party has done so in Israel’s history,” Zonszein told Ahram Online.

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