Unreported world

Does a small Islamist party hold the power to unlock Israel election?

Two-state solution party could determine Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate

As the results of Israel’s fourth election in two years began rolling in this week, voters were confronted with the possibility of yet another political stalemate.

But if many Israelis are feeling “trapped in an endless loop”, Tuesday’s vote did “at least produce one surprising result”, as a small Islamist Arab political party “emerged as a potential kingmaker”, The New York Times reports.

Israel’s election commission announced last night that with 100% of votes counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and his allies have secured 52 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the country’s parliament - eight seats short of a majority.

 And with “an ideologically diverse array of parties committed to replacing him” winning 57 seats, Netanyahu has been left casting around for new allies in his bid to secure a record sixth term in office, says Al Jazeera.

Pundits say Netanyahu may be unable to form a government without the support of his former protege Naftali Bennett, whose Yamina party is set to win seven parliamentary seats. But the PM’s “ultra-hawkish former ally turned arch critic” is being wooed by “both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs, which have clashed ferociously on the campaign trail” - and “has not yet revealed his intentions”, France 24 reports. 

Amid ongoing uncertainty as Bennett weighs up his options, attention has turned to a small Islamist party on track to take four seats that could “significantly shake up the political map”, says The Times of Israel.

The United Arab List, commonly known in Israel by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am, is a party with roots in the same religious movement as Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip. Ra’am supports a two-state solution, with the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the recognition of equal rights for the Arab population of Israel - making the party an unlikely bedfellow for Netanyahu.

But Ra’am’s leader, Mansour Abbas, has “expressed a willingness to work” alongside Netanyahu, says The Times of Israel reports, though the PM has so far rebuffed that offer.

A political partnership with Ra’am has also been ruled out by the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, which secured six seats that Netanyahu will need to form a coalition. Bezalel Smotrich said that “a right-wing government will not be established” that is based on “terrorism supporters who deny the existence of the State of Israel”.

Nevertheless, “even the possibility of Ra’am playing a deciding role in the formation of a coalition government is making waves in Israel”, says the NYT, which points out that an Arab party has never before been part of an Israeli coalition government.

With Netanyahu’s political future left hanging in the balance, Ra’am has said it will “back any group that offers something suitable in return to Israel’s Arab minority”, the paper adds.

“I hope to become a key man,” Abbas said in a television interview on Wednesday.

Insisting that his party is not in “anyone’s pocket”, he added: “Ra’am is at least challenging the political system. It is saying, ‘Friends, we exist here.’”

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