Arab party counted out on election eve could now play spoiler to Netanyahu

United Arab List (Ra’am) is now expected to get five seats in the Knesset, weakening Netanyahu’s chance for a right-wing coalition.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s election drama continued to unfold Wednesday when the Central Elections Committee reported that the Ra’am (United Arab List) party gained enough votes to get five seats in the Knesset, seriously hampering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial expectation of being able to form a slim right-wing government.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas told Channel 11 News that he had not slept at all overnight as the results were updated on the CEC website. Abbas said he was ready to negotiate with any party that recognized his legitimacy.

“We have already said several times that we are in nobody’s pocket, not on the Right and not on the Left,” Abbas said as Netanyahu’s Likud party, with an expected 30 seats, jockeyed with the centrist Yesh Atid party head led by Yair Lapid with 18 seats.

Exit polls Tuesday evening predicted that Ra’am would not gain the required 3.25% of the popular vote to reach the Knesset, Israel’s 120-seat parliament, leading to predictions that Netanyahu would be able to form a slim 61-seat right-wing government by building a coalition partnership with several of the 13 parties currently expected to gain seats.

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However, with some 80% of the votes tabulated, Ra’am had reached over 4% of the popular vote, putting it over the election threshold.

Lapid has repeatedly vowed to unseat Netanyahu and is trying to form his own coalition of center and left-wing parties to reach the 61-seat majority. He reached out to Abbas to meet later in the week, Channel 11 reported.

“We are ready to hold contacts,” Abbas said, but warned that he would not talk to anyone who negated his party, a veiled reference to the right-wing Religious Zionist party headed by Bezalel Smotrich.

“I do not rule out anybody, but whoever rules us out, we by definition rule them out,” Abbas said, referring to recent Smotrich’s comments that Arab parties were illegitimate.

“As long as the leadership of the Israeli Arabs does not accept Israel as neither Jewish nor democratic, it turns the table, it does not accept the conditions of the game,” Smotrich told i24 News last week before the election. “They cannot be legitimate partners in any government.”

Abbas has made it clear he sits in the middle and will join any government that recognizes his Ra’am party as legitimate.

Ra’am fell out of favor with the Arab Joint List after he refused to vote against Netanyahu in December and hinted he would be willing to sit in a Netanyahu-led government – a move until now considered unthinkable for any Arab party.

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Before the election was called, Ra’am was one of the four Arab parties in the Joint List, which had 15 seats in parliament before the election. With Ra’am reaching the threshold number of votes, the results so far show that Arab parties currently have 11 seats, down four from the previous Knesset.

In February, Ra’am’s Abbas had urged the other Arab parties to cooperate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the good of their constituents, but they rebuffed him, with Abbas saying their refusal to work with Zionist parties “repeats the same mistakes and stances that don’t help Arab society.”