Will Israel's Arabs use their new-found power wisely?

Dr. Norman Bailey

If they do, it could well be to Israel's wider benefit.

(Author's note: This column was written before Joint List's leader Ayman Odeh's call to Arabs to leave Israel's security services.)

The anti-Bibi government that took office ten months ago is tottering, due to a defection from Yamina to Likud. As a result, the governing coalition has only half the seats in the Knesset.

However, contrary to what many commentators who should know better are saying, the Opposition does NOT have the other half--it only has 54 seats with the new defection, because the remaining six seats are held by the Joint Arab List, which is neither government nor official Opposition. Even if it had the Joint List votes, the Opposition could not vote the government out of office, forcing a new election; much less can it do so without the Arab votes.

What this unprecedented situation means is much more significant than generally believed, namely, that for the first time ever the Arab bloc holds the balance of power in the Knesset. If the current coalition hangs on for the immediate future, the Arab bloc will determine if it can pass any significant legislation.

Or, if there are more defections from the coalition, it can determine which side will form the new government, or go to new elections. This is totally unprecedented and so we have no history to guide us in puzzling out what might happen. But one thing is sure--if the Arab bloc plays its newly-powerful cards skillfully (which it may well not), the Arab 20% of the population of Israel will determine the immediate political future of the country.

Together with Mansour Abbas's party, now in government, and the Druze members of largely Jewish parties, Arabs make up 10% of the Knesset. If they indeed "voted in droves" as Bibi Netanyahu famously claimed, they would have closer to 20%, and given the various social and religious divisions among the Jewish parties, their political influence, already greatly strengthened, as we have seen, would be even greater.

What does this portend? The Arab potential may not be realized, because they may behave as stupidly as many of their Jewish counterparts. But if they indeed decide to participate fully in the political life of Israel and do so constructively, such a development, along with the Abraham Accords, would represent a landmark in the history of Israel, more fully integrating it into the matrix of the Middle East, at just the right time, with waning US (and Russian?) influence, and an ever-threatening Iran.

Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 10, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

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