How To Beat Bibi

A Moderate Coalition: Include Arab Parties

Daniel Gavron explains how the Israeli center-left could beat Netanyahu by joining with Arab parties.

Now that the lists have been submitted for Israel’s January elections, it is too late to formulate a joint list to challenge the extreme right-wing list of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. There is, however time to create a coalition that could be activated after the poll. While this “Alliance for Sanity” could hope, in a best case scenario, to form the next Israeli government, a public opinion poll, published Monday morning in Haaretz, indicates an overwhelmingly strong showing for the right and their religious allies, compared to disastrous results for the center and left-wing parties. Consequently it is probable that such an alliance would be relegated to the opposition.

Even at this late stage, though, the situation could be turned around. If Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, the Labor Party headed by Shelly Yachimovich, the left-wing Meretz party, and the remains of Kadima united behind a declaration that they will either form an alternative government to the Netanyahu administration, or serve as the opposition, this would create an opening for change—but only an opening.

Even with the best foreseeable outcome, the resulting moderate alliance would lose to the right-wing bloc, but there is a strategy that could challenge the certainty of a nationalist majority. The center-left must find a way to include the Arab parties. The same edition of Haaretz that reported the above-mentioned polls, giving the right a crushing victory, also disclosed another interesting statistic: more than half of Israel’s Palestinian citizens do not plan to vote in the coming elections. This continues a trend that has existed for more than a decade.

Israel’s Arabs are not inherently indifferent to participating in the democratic process. They vote strongly in municipal elections, electing mayors in Nazareth, Umm el-Fahm, and other Arab towns all over Israel. They do not, however, show the same enthusiasm when it comes to national elections. This is because the Arab parties have traditionally been excluded from Israeli governments, with the result that the Arabs feel that their votes have no influence on their situation. In point of fact they are right: Israeli Palestinian towns and villages are not equal to their Jewish counterparts when it comes to industrial parks, schools, community centers, clinics, and other institutions that influence every-day life.

If the center-left alliance could induce the Arab voters to enter the polling booths and exercise their democratic rights, they could tilt the balance in their direction. Israel’s Arabs possess a potentially formidable resource of votes, but to win these votes, they must be welcomed as equals. The alliance must pledge full rights, equal opportunities, and adequate services for Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

While this would be a revolutionary development for Israel, flying in the face of prejudice and suspicion, it is not entirely without precedent. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin managed to put together what he called a “blocking group,” an alignment of Knesset Members that denied the right and its religious allies a majority that would have enabled it to form the government. While it is true that Rabin did not bring the Arab parties into his coalition, he was prepared to utilize their voting power to win the premiership. Subsequently, he showed his appreciation for their assistance when it came to practical matters such as budgets. It should be possible to improve on Rabin’s approach and carry it a stage further

A lot has happened in Israel since Rabin’s assassination—most of it bad—but the world has moved on and Israel should move with it. After all, the United State has twice elected an African-American President. Surely that is a transformation in attitude worthy of imitation. Is it too much to demand of my fellow Israelis that they emulate the example of the nation they admire above all others? Like Americans did when they elected Barack Obama, we should eschew our old shibboleths and forge ahead on a revolutionary path. This could give us a chance to establish a government that would initiate negotiations with the Palestinians, ultimately leading to peace and a better life for all of us in the region.