As I first penned these words, at six a.m. the morning after the Israeli elections, and after 99%of the votes were counted – Israelis were informed that the Likud won 5-6 more Knesset seats than the Zionist Union. If this turns out to be the final result, when the soldiers votes are added the next day, it means that the Likud has scored an impressive victory, especially in the light of the enormous sums and extraordinary efforts invested in trying to unseat it, both by Israeli and overseas groups.
The Israelis have shown once again that they are unimpressed by foreign intervention in their elections and that the State of Israel is not an easily manipulated banana republic.
And if Netanyahu bested Obama in this round of hostilities between the two, and especially in the light of the US president’s abysmal defeat in the mid-term congressional elections, Netanyahu will certainly enter any future dealings with the Palestinians and the Arabs from a position of strength.
The ball is now in the potential coalition partners’ court. The Jewish Home, Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu and Shas parties give Netanyahu 61 MKs and if the haredi UTJ joins, he will have 68 MK’s and a real possibility of completing his four-year term of office in relative political tranquillity. If his natural partners set too high a price for joining his coalition, he can always turn to the Zionist Union and form a coalition, making sure it is clear who the boss is and what the agenda entails. I am sure that Herzog will swallow his ideological demands in order to join the coalition. It is also quite possible that Netanyahu may set a deadline in the near future for coalition negotiations to end so as to use the mandate voters granted him to the best advantage.
The raising of the percentage of the total vote needed for a party to enter the Knesset convinced the three Arab Knesset parties that they must unite in order to pass the threshold. This unity was a fervent hope of many Israeli Arabs, because the squabbling and fighting among the three parties caused many of their constituents to feel alienated and to refrainfrom voting at all. In 2013, only 56% of Israeli Arabs voted as opposed to 68% of the rest of the population. With one list running instead of three, the Arab public was pleased, and the percentage of voters rose significantly.
The United Arab list gained 13-14 Knesset seats, 2-3 seats more than they had in the previous Knesset, and mainly a result of their uniting. If the Zionist Union joins the coalition, the Arab party will be the largest opposition party, a development that will grant the party head several privileges, such as consultations with the prime minister on weighty issues such as war, and meetings with foreign leaders who visit Israel. If that happens, the Arab party will also gain in importance because its members will serve as heads of Knesset committees and will be able to make the government’s life much harder.
However, the significance of the United Arab party goes farther than that, because it may be a turning point in the relationship of Israeli Arabs and the state. It symbolizes a collective Arab slide into taking a positive and active part in running the country and in deciding on its agenda. If the elections do symbolize this process, it is likely occurring as a result of the disastrous situation in the Arab world and the bloodbaths taking place in it that worry Israeli Arabs.
The crises in the Arab world have brought a good part of the Arab minority in Israel to the realization that Israel – although not exactly the culmination of their hopes – is the only normal state in the Middle East, a country that respects its citizens, both Jews and Arabs, and that even if there are justified complaints about the state, it is still their preferred alternative. As a group, they do not want to become part of a Palestinian State, because they know well that life in the democratic Israel is better than life in any Arab state.
This brings us to another issue, no less important than the first: the United Arab party saw itself opposed to the left as well as the right. The feeling on the Arab street is that its MK’s are in no one’s pocket as of now, not even the left’s. Comments to that effect began being heard when the Labor and Hatnua parties decided to call themselves the “Zionist Union”. The very word “Zionist” is the antithesis of the goals of all three parties in the United Arab List, and no matter how attractive that name was to the Jewish public, it did not encourage Arabs to cooperate with Herzog and Livni.
The Arabs will judge the leftist bloc by its actions, not its words. It is true that if Herzog and Livni join the opposition, they will not have many jobs to give out to Arabs. Nevertheless, the opposition gives the MK’s in it, Jews and Arabs, the possibility of cooperating and working together, against the government, for example. If the Zionist Union cooperates fully with the Arab list from the opposition’s benches, that can be the basis for future cooperation if and when the left becomes part of the coalition.
Israel’s political map is clear: the Jewish public is clearly rightist and gave the right 43 seats in the Knesset, mainly due to security considerations. The Arab sector is unifying with 13 seats. Between the two is the leftist bloc which is shrinking day by day, slowly but surely. With 29 Knesset seats, the growing centrist bloc keeps breaking up into lightweight small parties. The haredi bloc is 14 seats. This political map can be clear and and stable if the coalition members look at what is good for the public, not just what is good for their party.
The Jewish people has proven to itself and its neighbors that it has no illusions about a New Middle East, and Netanyahu even announced a retreat from his Bar Ilan speech of 2009 (when he declared his support for a Palestinian State). Today’s Middle East provides Israelis mainly with threats and fears, not with opportunities and definitely not with hopes of peace.
It is vital to translate the election results to facts on the ground.
First and foremost – to advance and carry out the Eight Emirates Plan. One emirate has existed in Gaza since 2007, and seven others must be established in the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria. This is the time to place this plan on the government’s table, because Yes We Can!
Reprinted with author’s permission from Arutz Sheva