Could Arab Islamist become Israel’s kingmaker?

Mahmoud Abbas of the Ra’am party may find himself in a position to choose who will lead Israel.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Could an Arab Islamist become Israel’s kingmaker?

In a shocking turn of events, what would have seemed incomprehensible on Tuesday night has turned into a real possibility by Wednesday afternoon with close to 90% of the votes counted.

It started in a blaze of glory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on election eve, as exit polls predicted he would receive enough Knesset seats to form a governing coalition.

That lead quickly dissipated and by Wednesday morning Ra’am (or “United Arab List”), an Arab Islamist party, has succeeded in passing the electoral threshold, securing five seats.

At present count, the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc has 52 seats. The opposition parties have 56, though that maximal number is unlikely, given it’s made up of a hodgepodge of opposing interests.

The right-wing Yemina party (a holdout that has not promised to join Netanyahu) will likely stick with Netanyahu’s bloc, giving it 59 seats, still short of a majority.

That means Ra’am could well become the deciding factor. Its five seats tips either bloc over the edge and into the government.

It would be natural to assume that Ra’am, whose aim is the Islamization of Arab society, which it pursues through religious outreach and a vast network of charities, would link up with Israel’s Left.

However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Netanyahu has been wooing Ra’am’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, for some time. Abbas has reciprocated and has indicated he would consider joining a Netanyahu government.

Abbas’s willingness to work with Netanyahu, and “Zionist” parties in general is what led to the breakup of the Joint List, an Arab party to which Ra’am belonged. It split in February as the other parties that made up the faction refused to adopt Abbas’s pragmatic approach.

Although living in a Jewish State, Israeli-Arab parties have adopted an approach that treats Israeli parties as illegitimate. For a time, Arab Knesset members tacitly supported the Labor-led government in the 1990s during the Oslo Accords.

Urging cooperation for the good of their constituents, Abbas told Channel 20 in November, “If the Joint List repeats the same mistakes and stances that don’t help Arab society, it loses its justification for existing.”

Abbas’ strategy appears to have proven itself at the polls. His party won five seats whereas the Joint List dropped from 15 to eight.

Netanyahu, for his part, has also changed his strategy vis a vis Israeli-Arab voters, focusing part of his latest campaign on outreach to Israeli-Arabs, pledging to fight crime which has plagued their communities.

However, even if Ra’am chooses to support a Netanyahu coalition, it’s not clear how easy it will be for the prime minister to convince his party to go along with the plan.

There are already indications of a rift as two Likud Knesset members exchanged barbs on Wednesday over the possibility.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a long-time Netanyahu loyalist, announced in a Wednesday morning radio interview that the Likud is “ready to enter into negotiations with Mansour Abbas, even if he is in opposition.”

Hanegbi immediately found himself in the crosshairs of another Likud member, Shlomo Karhi, who called Hanegbi a “shame and disgrace.”

“This is a man who has no place at all in a right-wing government,” Karhi said.