Report: PM will work for Religious Zionism to soften stance

With Netanyahu lacking majority, Likud MK gives Islamist Ra’am a kosher stamp

Meeting the Arab party’s leader, Ayoub Kara asserts that unlike the Joint List, Ra’am ‘doesn’t deny Israel’s existence’; head of Arab Balad party resigns

Likud MK Ayoub Kara, right, meets with Ra'am chief Mansour Abbas in the northern town of Maghar on March 27, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Likud MK Ayoub Kara, right, meets with Ra'am chief Mansour Abbas in the northern town of Maghar on March 27, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A Knesset member in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party met Saturday with Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist faction has emerged as a potential kingmaker after the fourth inconclusive elections in two years.

Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out relying on Ra’am to form a government in the run-up to the March 23 elections, calling the party anti-Zionist. However, some Likud lawmakers have entertained partnering with Ra’am following this week’s elections, which saw the premier and his right-wing religious allies again fall short of a majority.

After meeting Abbas in his hometown of Maghar, Likud lawmaker Ayoub Kara called to differentiate between Ra’am and the Joint List, an alliance of majority Arab factions that the Islamist party broke with before the elections.

“Friends on the right: There is a difference between the Joint [List] that cut off the Arab public from Israel and the new pragmatic Ra’am that doesn’t deny Israel’s existence and wants to be a partner in national decisions,” Kara tweeted.

Kara told Army Radio said he received requests from within Likud to visit Abbas, but didn’t specify from who.

“My role as an MK in Likud is to look out for the interests of my party,” he said.

Kara said during the visit to Abbas, “What Netanyahu did when he turned to the Arab community, instead of votes going to [the Joint List], they went to Mansour [Abbas] and we’re happy about that,” according to Channel 12.

Kara, from Israel’s Druze community, served as communications minister from 2017-2019. He is 41st on the Likud slate, meaning he will not enter the Knesset following Tuesday’s election, in which Likud won 30 seats.

Ra’am’s backing could grant Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc a majority if the right-wing Yamina faction also supports it. However, the seemingly improbable possibility of the Islamist party doing so appeared to shrink further this week after both Ra’am and members of the far-right Religious Zionism party ruled out joining forces.

However according to an unsourced Channel 13 report on Saturday, Netanyahu will work in the coming days to try to get Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich and his far-right faction partner Itamar Ben Gvir to soften their stance toward Ra’am.

A report Wednesday said Netanyahu has not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with Ra’am, fearing it could back legislation preventing him from forming a government over his indictment on graft charges.

Also on Saturday, the general-secretary of Balad resigned Saturday, citing the Joint List’s loss of seats in the elections. Balad, a Palestinian nationalist party, is one of three factions that make up the Joint List, along with the communist Hadash and MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al.

“The results of the latest elections require all the components of the Joint List to reconsider their steps. The split in our people will take years to fix, if ever,” Mustafa Taha was quoted saying by Army Radio.

The final election results gave six seats to the Joint List and four to Ra’am. When Ra’am ran as part of the Joint List last March, the combined slate received 15 seats.

According to a Thursday report, Netanyahu has formed a team to search for potential mistakes and problems with votes for the Joint List, seeking to annul some 2,600 votes to win a seat for Likud at the Arab alliance’s expense and shift the Knesset balance slightly in his favor.

Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh speaks at party headquarters, in the city of Shfar’am, on elections night, on March 23, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90

Currently, the Joint List has a buffer of 2,521 votes, below which it loses its 6th seat. Under Israel’s complex seat distribution system, Likud, currently closest to an additional seat by number of votes, would gain from the Joint List’s loss.

This would shift Netanyahu’s bloc of potential supporters from 59 to 60 of the Knesset’s 120 total. Not yet a majority, but at least not a minority.

But to do so, Likud would need to discredit 2,521 votes cast by the Arab public, an unlikely scenario, and one that is sure to elicit intense criticism for the attempt to disenfranchise members of Israel’s Arab minority.

The Israel Hayom report said the team will focus on finding discrepancies at polling stations with a high turnout for the Joint List in Arab towns such as Umm al-Fahm, Taybeh, Jaffa and Kfar Manda.

Likud has in the past claimed efforts toward voter fraud among Arab Israeli voters, angering the Arab community and the center-left, but has failed to provide solid proof of any mass fraud.

Ahead of the latest election Netanyahu abandoned such rhetoric and attempted to embrace the Arab public, in a bid to get support from the community that had middling results.

With all votes counted Thursday evening, results showed Netanyahu had failed, for the fourth time in a row, to win a clear parliamentary majority. The results left both the premier and his political opponents once again without a clear path to forming a coalition government, and heralded enduring gridlock and a potential fifth election.

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