Analysis |

The Joint List Can't Afford to Prop Up Israel's Government, but It's Not Their Decision Alone

In light of the existential threat to Israel's unity government posed by MK Idit Silman's sudden departure, some think the Arab-majority Joint List could offer a lifeline. But actors on both sides have serious doubts

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Sami Abu Shehadeh, Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi leading a Joint List party meeting, last month.
Sami Abu Shehadeh, Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi leading a Joint List party meeting, last month.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Lawmaker Idit Silman’s departure from the coalition has rattled the political arena and poses an existential threat to the government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. Coalition members, sensing they are under the gun, are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to save the government.

One way of doing this is to accept a safety net from the Joint List, and have its members vote with the coalition. The goal is clear: Prevent the formation of a narrow right-wing government headed by Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu – one which includes far-right parliamentarians Bezalel Smotrich and his colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Support for this strategy comes primarily from Yesh Atid and Meretz. Given that only a few votes are needed from Joint List Knesset members, they hope that it will be enough to ensure the government’s survival. All eyes are on two members of the Ta’al faction within the Joint List – Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi, both of whom are in the habit of remaining tight-lipped. The two are enjoying the media attention and waiting for various politicians to woo them.

Among the other factions of the Joint List – Hadash and Balad – have clearer intentions. Balad Chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh, who is also the chairman of the Joint List Knesset caucus, said in an interview to Radio al-Shams that his party would provide a safety net for the current government, and certainly not to a Netanyahu-led government. Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh has said the same: “We have gone the distance in the name of change in the past, recommending Gantz as prime minister, but the Zionist left-center was always suspicious. Now, they expect us to lend a hand to a government with Bennett and Shaked, with everything that’s going on. It won’t happen.”

The Joint List chairman’s refusal is tinged with vengefulness. Odeh gambled his political future twice, recommending that Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz be tasked with forming a government. Gantz then refused to form a government with the Joint List, or be supported by it from outside the coalition. Now, Odeh is refusing to act as a lifeline for someone who has given him the cold shoulder. Further, the current government has thwarted every initiative from the Joint List, while loudly praising every achievement made by the United Arab List – which split from the Joint List in early 2021 and joined the coalition.

Sources in the Joint List describe providing a safety net for this government as political suicide. Those who castigated UAL Chairman Mansour Abbas for joining the Bennett government, nearly accusing him of treason, cannot allow themselves to support that coalition, they say. “It would be political bankruptcy, like shooting ourselves in the head,” a senior member of the Joint List says. If the government falls soon, the Arab parties will have to face the voters. If the Joint List supports the coalition, UAL will have a clear advantage, which Odeh is not ready to allow.

Silman and Bennett at the Knesset in February.Credit: Noam Moskowitz / Knesset spokesperson

The Joint List’s wishes, however, are not the only factor. It’s uncertain whether coalition members would even agree to receive such a lifeline. A government that includes Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Nir Orbach, members of New Hope and Yisrael Beiteinu all sitting with the Joint List seems like a far off dream these days.

Throughout this saga, one should remember that Silman’s decision was not really about the dispute with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, after the latter instructed that leavened bread be allowed into hospitals during Passover in accordance with the High Court of Justice ruling. Silman made this clear with the last sentence of her resignation letter to Bennett, stating that "the time has come to form a national, Jewish and Zionist government." The State of Israel, according to Silman and her ilk, can no longer tolerate a government that includes Arabs.

The present situation provides no real reason to topple the government. Oslo part three is not around the corner, nor is a third Lebanon War. Hamas is not on the fence and Arab citizens are busy with Ramadan. The public health and economic threat from the pandemic is waning. There is only one reason to topple the government: The Jewish and right-wing State of Israel is not yet ready for the change that this government represents.

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