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Arab representation in the Knesset and its limitations

MK Mtanes Shehadeh, MK Yousef Jabareen, MK Mansour Abbas and MK Ahmad Tibi and other members of Joint Arab list
MK Mtanes Shehadeh, MK Yousef Jabareen, MK Mansour Abbas and MK Ahmad Tibi and other members of Joint Arab list

There is a lot of talk about the efforts to form a new government in Israel and the bitter confrontation between the rival Likud and Blue and White blocs over the need for it to be based on a Jewish majority. The parties are conscious of the growing strength of the Joint List, which is made up of an alliance of active Palestinian parties in the areas occupied in 1948 in what is now called Israel. This seems to have whetted the appetite of some politicians, including some in Palestinian circles, to repeat the experience of the "blocking bloc" that supported the Yitzhak Rabin government in everything related to the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. It was made up of five Knesset Members (MKs) from two Arab parties.

A quick review of what followed that experience, which lacked development until today, will revive the real memories about two matters that seem unshakable: the limits of the Israeli group and the limitations of Arab representation in the Knesset.

I touched upon the first more than a year ago, and we must accept that what is being said by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponent, General Benny Gantz, about the need for a Jewish majority follows a lengthy period of pretending. Throughout this period, the right wing and Likud were feigning about being a part of the alliance, which was the foundation of Rabin's government from 1992 to 1995. They drew the boundaries of this group in a manner that not only got rid of the occupied Palestinian territories, but also their Jewish allies.

Throughout this period, Likud MKs have danced to the tune of national ethnicity by talking about imaginary rapprochement between the Palestinians in Israel and members of the Labor movement and everyone on their left. We still hear the echoes of statements made by the former Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir about the Rabin government returning to the defeatist joint proposal with the Arabs and some Israeli circles which claimed that without making dangerous concessions, peace cannot be achieved.

Report: Blue and White give up on possibility of minority government

Ariel Sharon told the Knesset that most of those standing behind Rabin were relying on forces hopping between conditional loyalty and hostility to the Zionist state and denying its right to exist. He expressed his fear that Rabin would be forced to "please and care for" those who brought him to power, that is, the political bodies and frameworks representing the Palestinian Arabs in Israel who, according to Sharon, wished to liquidate the state, as well as the left-wing Jewish forces which, he claimed, made themselves a loyal slave of the Arab national cause and hostile to the Jews by fighting boldly to eliminate the Jewish character of the State of Israel. Sharon vowed to confront the alliance between the Jewish left and Arab nationalists.

Rabin's response didn't take long in coming. His move in December 1992 to deport Hamas members to Marj Al-Zuhur in southern Lebanon totally refuted the image that he wanted to present of himself, as the leader of a pro-peace government.

The implications of the second issue are not limited to the Likud and the right continuing to redraw the limitations and constraints of Arab representation in the Knesset. They go beyond, and are also practiced by their political rivals, including Gantz and the other Blue and White figures. One simple example is that during the election for the head of the Israeli Labor party in November 2002, 22 per cent of its MKs voted very definitely against a government coalition between Labor and the Arab parties; 8.5 per cent said that they "did not think" that such a government coalition should be established.

In direct political language, these figures clarified that any political measure based on a non-Jewish majority decision taken by a party described as left wing would have been met with the opposition of a third of its left-wing members. Fast forward to today, and we can imagine what it will be like with right wing parties dependent on Palestinian Arab MKs.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid  25 March 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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