Planned Israel Coalition Brings Palestinians Relief but No Rejoicing

Planned Israel Coalition Brings Palestinians Relief but No Rejoicing

The agreement on a coalition that would oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and include an Arab party in government has prompted indignation and relief in roughly equal measure among Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Indignation because Naftali Bennett, who will become prime minister until 2023 if Parliament approves the proposed eight-party coalition, is a right-wing leader aligned with religious nationalists in strong opposition to a Palestinian state.

Relief because Mr. Netanyahu, while sometimes courting Israeli Arabs of late, has often used their presence to generate fear among his base, famously warning in 2015 that they were voting “in droves.” He has fanned division where possible and declared that Israel is “the nation-state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

These provocations, and the passing of a nation-state bill in 2018 that said the right to exercise self-determination was “unique to the Jewish people,” contributed to the anger evident in violent confrontations in several cities last month between Arabs and Jews.

That a small Arab party known by its Hebrew acronym, Raam, agreed to join the government so soon after the clashes reflected a growing realization that marginalization of Arab parties brings only paralysis. It also suggested a desire among some Palestinians citizens, who account for 20 percent of the Israeli population, to exert more political influence.

Raam, with four seats in the current Parliament, would be the first independent Arab party in an Israeli government, although it would not have any cabinet members.

“I do not think that the two-state solution or reconciliation with the Palestinians will be achieved in the coming year or two,” said Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, an advocacy group for Arab citizens of Israel. “But I do think that it is an opportunity for the Palestinian community in Israel to become a game changer.”

Others were more sceptical. “I have debated Bennett, and he says quite openly, ‘You are not my equal,’” said Diana Buttu, a prominent Palestinian lawyer based in Haifa. “Did I want Netanyahu out? Yes. To the extent of wanting Bennett as prime minister? No.”

Alluding to Mansour Abbas, the leader of the small Arab party that signed an agreement to join the government, she added: “He has done this to make his mark, but he will not get anything. He is effectively backing a government led by an ultranationalist who wants to expand settlements.”

How Mr. Bennett would exercise power in a coalition with many members well to the left of him, including the chief architect of the agreement, Yair Lapid, remains unclear. But Mr. Netanyahu’s hold on Israeli society and the Israeli imagination has been such over the past dozen years that his eventual departure inevitably seems synonymous with new possibility.

Commenting in the newspaper Yedioth, Merav Batito wrote: “Abbas’ signature is much more than a formal token of agreement. It symbolizes the possibility of a return to normalcy of Israeli society.” She added, “The first concrete wall built between Arabs and Jews by the Parliament deep in Israeli society has been breached.”

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