Arab Split Could Boost Netanyahu

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
Ra’am party chairman Mansur Abbas (R) who split off from the Joint List on Thursday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

An alliance of Arab parties in Israel finalized its breakup on Thursday, setting up the possibility that a small Islamist party could hold the key to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remaining in office and avoiding prosecution on corruption charges.

The Joint List, an alliance of four Arab parties that won its most-ever 15 seats in elections held last year, finalized the split overnight in which three will run together and the Ra’am party led by MK Mansour Abbas, will strike out on its own.

One of the main points of division was Abbas’ openness to working with Netanyahu or other Israeli leaders to address longstanding issues such as crime and housing in Israel’s Arab community, which makes up around 20% of its population.

Abbas’ party may struggle to clear the electoral threshold for representation in the Knesset. But in a tightly-fought election in which the winner must assemble a coalition of 61 seats, he could emerge as an unlikely kingmaker. Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud winning the most seats but falling slightly short of a ruling coalition. Even a couple of seats might be enough to make a difference.

“Taking into consideration the political stalemate, any Arab party might play the break-even role … in return for benefits for Arab society,” said Arik Rudnitzky, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. “This is the main political consideration of the Islamic movement.”

Rudnitzky said Abbas’ party could do well on its own.

“The Islamic movement is one of the largest popular social movements acting in Arab society,” he said. “They have a very solid base of popular support, but the question is whether this popular support will translate into an actual vote on election day.”