Israel went to the polls yesterday for the third time in a year and perhaps magic struck. It appears that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has a four-vote lead, 37-33, over Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) Party. Netanyahu now has a likelier path to build a coalition than he had after the previous two elections especially in the fall when he trailed Gantz 33-31. This time Gantz’s vote remained the same enabling Bibi immediately to begin his efforts to form a new Government, this time from a larger base from within his own party. Given the size of the religious parties’ vote (17) and the extreme right wing Yamina Party (7), Netanyahu can be assured of a governing majority. Alternatively, if Netanyahu succeeds in forming a national unity government with Gantz, he could do so without the ultra-Orthodox charedi religious parties and/or with the inclusion of the Yisrael Beiteinu (The Jewish Home) anti-religious party led by Avigdor Liebermann.
The election results on their face show public frustration with the system and a desire to move ahead with what they know they can rely on, more Netanyahu. The problem with this choice, lays open two real, poignant facts about Israeli politics today. First, there is the fact that Israel elected someone who is likely to be Prime Minister while under indictment on criminal corruption charges. Second, in all likelihood this new Government will not include an Arab Party which obtained more votes than five of the other parties.
Netanyahu’s trial is scheduled to begin on March 17. While there are a few motions which might briefly postpone the actual commencement of the trial, a significant delay is exceedingly unlikely. Netanyahu has manipulated the legal system so often that even he seems to finally have exhausted all the courts’ patience. The only way that Netanyahu could avoid a trail now would be if he could have a Government quickly fall into place and it would grant Bibi retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution while he serves as Prime Minister.
This is a ruse that Netanyahu failed to obtain previously. The courts consistently have ruled this tactic to be dilatory and they will not be intimidated by Netanyahu’s maneuvering; despite the fact that he just was re-elected as leader of his party and is once again to be the likely Prime Minister.
The Arab Joint List received 14.5% of the vote, the third largest bloc after Likud and Kahol Lavan. Arabs participated in record numbers in this election as they continue to recognize that using their franchise may indeed be the way to expand their pathway to political power. At the same time, they continue to be excluded from achieving a roll in governing the country.
It is past time for Israel recognize that Israeli Arabs—leave aside the entire question of the Arabs living on the West Bank—have the opportunity to participate in governing the country. Israeli Arabs—both Christian and Muslim—should be included in governing their country. They must no longer continue to be patronized. It is clearly time for them to be engaged in running the country.
Tokenism did not work in the United States and it does not work in Israel. If Israel seeks to remain an inclusive democracy, it must begin to accept the challenge to include over 20% of the population in governing the country. Israel must cease to operate out of fear. While Netanyahu and the next Government may not bring the Arabs into this coalition, the Jews ought to realize that it is in everyone’s interest if the Arabs are given more political stake in the country’s future.