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If Herzog wants to lead, he'll need to bring the Arabs with him

The upcoming elections could provide a golden opportunity for the Palestinian minority in Israel to become power brokers in the political system. That is, if Labor leader and election frontrunner Isaac Herzog brings the Arab MKs into his coalition.

By: Thair Abu Rass

Labor chairman Isaac Herzog (Photo by Activestills.org)

Labor chairman Isaac Herzog (Photo by Activestills.org)

The upcoming Israeli elections are a historic opportunity for the Palestinian minority in Israel. For the first time ever they have the possibility of becoming the power brokers in any future coalition.

According to recent polls, a unified Arab slate consisting of the four major parties: Hadash (a joint Jewish-Arab party, where nearly 95% of its voters are Palestinians), Balad, Ta’al and Ra’am can achieve 15 seats, at least 4 more than the 11 they won in the previous election.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have historically been the least participative community in Israeli elections. This time, however, Arabs will participate in larger numbers, both out of fear and as a result of a very traumatic year. For the first time, Palestinians feel their citizenship is in jeopardy, especially due to the war on Gaza and its aftermath: Zionist ministers calling for boycotting Arab towns and business, harassing Arab employees in their work places due to their political beliefs and the idea to ban the Islamic movement are all reasons to motivate the Palestinians to defend their citizenship by heading to the polls.

The 2013 Israeli elections ended with a virtual tie between the center-left (59 seats) and the right-religious (61 seats) camp. A unified and enhanced Arab list in 2015 can surely keep the right wing at bay for the next four years. For example, most polls indicate that a unified Arab list can bring the center-left to the magical number of 61 (seats). A future coalition of Labor, Arabs, Meretz, Yesh Atid and Kahlon is more than plausible.

Read: Why are Palestinian citizens expected to be loyal to Israel?

For over 66 years the Palestinian minority has been excluded from any political power in Israel, an exclusion that has only intensified the institutional discrimination against Arabs in all walks of life. Labor PM candidate Isaac Herzog, the frontrunner against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has not explicitly rejected the idea of including Arab parties in a future coalition. Now is the time to put him to the test.

With the rise of far-right extremism that has included numerous calls to expel Arabserase their language and culture; and delegitimize their political and social activism as proposed in the “Jewish Nation-State Law,” the time has come for the Arabs to respond. The best way to do so is to change the system.

Raam-Taal MK Ahmad Tibi (L) and Balad MK Jamal Zahalka (Photo by Activestills.org)

Raam-Taal MK Ahmad Tibi (L) and Balad MK Jamal Zahalka (Photo by Activestills.org)

Most salient predictions concerning the future of Israel regard the Palestinian minority as the most vital economic mobilizer due to the young population and the rising number of Arab professionals in all fields. The historic decision of Arab legislators to work from the benches of the opposition has never benefited the rights or the rising demands of the Palestinian community in Israel.

Any future coalition that includes the Palestinian parties must be built on three major points:

1. An aggressive and unapologetic policy of democratization, leading to a system that regards democratic-civic values above all other ones. As Israel’s already-weak democracy is further weakened, it is the Arab minorities’ responsibility to guard and enhance a future pluralistic and democratic Israeli public sphere.

2. A policy of economic integration that includes subsidies for small businesses, an expansion of industrial zones and building new Arab towns inside Israel. This never happened despite numerous promises by government officials. Above all, Israel needs a more fair distribution of national resources that Arabs can also enjoy.

3. Political integration of Arab professionals in all areas. Despite representing a fifth of the population, Arabs represent only 8 percent of bureaucrats and 2 percent of high-ranking bureaucrats. There are almost no Arab experts in government companies or other public sector institutions. Only a policy of integration into these sectors can affect the standing of the Palestinian minority and begin creating a basis for a shared future society for all citizens.

Palestinian politicians cannot be effective on the Israeli-Palestinian front; the only sincere contribution they can add is to normalize the status of the Palestinian minority. A stronger Palestinian minority will only work to enhance the chances of a future solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If Labor and the Israeli left want to return to the Prime Minister’s Office after 16 years of consistent failures, they must take Israel’s largest minority into consideration. On March 18th Israel may have a new prime minister. If the Palestinian community and their leaders take the strategic steps necessary, a Jewish partner will be needed; the only question is: will Herzog be up to the task?

Thair Abu Rass is a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Qalansuwa, and a Political Science PhD candidate at the University of Houston.

Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens
Why are Palestinian citizens expected to be loyal to Israel?
A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel

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    1. Fahmi Natour

      I agree, there is a golden opportunity for the Israeli Arab minority in the upcoming election to wield more meaningful power as part of a left leaning labor government. There are at least two prerequisites, one is a unified Arab block. The second has to do with what will Getting do after the election, especially in light of the joint declaration with Livny “we are the heart of the Zionist camp.” Recently, labor has been paying lip service to Arab voters, period. It is as though they are afraid to be branded as pro Arab before the election. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful analysis.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Are the Arab political parties going to join the “Zionist Camp”? They have never done so before and are unlikely to do so now.

        When Herzog and Livni announced on December 10 they would be running together, the phrase “Zionist Camp” was printed on a backdrop behind them and on their podiums, along with Labor-Hatnua.

        Will the Arab parties try to sell to their constituents participation in a Zionist government? I do not think so.

        The Arab political parties still have not agreed on a joint list and who will lead the list. It is unlikely they will have the unity to join a Zionist Government and work for the betterment of their constituents. Arab politicians have been more interested in supporting Israel’s enemies.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn4

      Lapid is going to sit in a government with the Zoabis? Kachlon and Lapid will sit in a government with the communists of Hadash?Livni? You forgot to add Liberman to that government as well for the entire bouquet of delusion.

      I don’t have any particular problem with most of the principles you propose. The problem is that some of the Arab MKs (zahalke, zoabi especially, but not exclusively) are only capable of sitting in a government that commits to eliminating Israel. Meretz would probably have a hard time creating a common economic policy with Kachlon or Lapid and your coalition requires the communists of Hadash to do so. And so the electoral math you use to support your argument is delusional.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mikesailor

      You have to be kidding. You are asking Labor to disavow one of the central tenets of Zionism: that Jews are supreme and non-Jews should never have real political power in the so-called “Jewish” state. Ask Dalia. The Jews will never accept treating “Arabs” as equal. Will Labor stop building settlements? Will Labor prosecute Jews, whether mambers of the Idf of “security services’ or even settlers who brutalize, wound or kill non-Jews? Will Lanor become the vanguard of equal rights and responsibilities for all citizens of the state or reserve special privilege for Jews? Tell me, why should any non-Jew trust Labor anymore than any other Zionist party?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Well, given the total lack of anything useful invented by Arabs during last millennia….

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, Right

          Such a bizarrely inappropriate retort from trespass or.

          Are voters required to bring evidence of their patent portfolio when they enroll to vote?

          And if the answer is “no” then I rather fail to see what point the trespasser is making.

          Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          Another attempt to derail discussion with inept and utterly misinformed comment, but you actually raise a very interesting topic. You are probably unfamiliar with a Monty Python sketch, “What did the Romans ever do for us” but if a similar question were to be asked of the Arabs you would find that Western civilisation is built on Arab foundations and we have huge indebtedness to Arab scientists and technologists over multiple disciplines – chemistry, the food industry (e.g. the coffee shop, the restaurant, the three-course meal), glass and ceramics, military technology, (e.g Damascus steel, fire-proof clothing, the gunpowder cartridge, portable guns, the purification of potassium nitrate for gunpowder production), civil engineering and architecture, irrigation, water purification, the use of gears and industrial milling (including in paper, sugar textiles), the oil industry, tar-roads, surveying technology, surgery (including many new instruments and dissolvable cat-gut sutures, algebra, geometry, poetry, philosophy, the first modern universities and hospitals, musical notation, ship-building, navigation techniques, map-making, chronology (including the first alarm clock and the first pocket watch) etc. etc The list is endless and though many of the great discoveries were during a golden age there may be a simple reason for this – once Europe experienced a Renaissance, due to Arab foundations (Arab universities had retained the learning of ancient Greeks) during the Dark Ages, European powers were successfully able to colonise the Arab world. Even the great Jewish scholar Rambam wrote many of his works in Arabic and was heavily influenced by Arabic learning, especially in science, philosophy and law.

          Reply to Comment
          • Phil Fumble

            The three course meal? Lol…

            What about the monogomous, clitorus-free wife?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I am glad you found one point you could scoff at Phil. I do agree with you though that genital mutilation is deplorable, and has always represented the domination of the priesthood over the laity, parents over children, men over women. Glad you defend at least some human rights.

            Reply to Comment
          • Phil Fumble

            Bryan, stop being daft. The Muslims lead the league in women who,have been genitally mutilated. 90% in Egypt alone. Don’t whitewash this horrible,situation.

            Reply to Comment
    4. The more Arabs in the Knesset the better the dialogue and the outcome, only if the Jewish MKs would be more comitted to working with Arab MKs instead of taking every opportunity to revile and slander Palestinians as a “terrorist” and the most ridiculous moniker, “antisemites”.

      Reply to Comment