Analysis |

Netanyahu’s Overtures to Israel's Arabs Are Also Aimed at His Right-wing Voters

The premier's strategy - smart, it must be said - is not merely intended to scrounge up another vote, and leftists will certainly not be able to complain

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

What luck that Gideon Sa’ar left Likud and in a single day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost his “Jewish majority” for the establishment of a coalition. If not for Sa’ar, the “new era in relations between Jews and Arabs,” which Netanyahu declared in Nazareth in a voice choked with emotion, would not have come. If not for political troubled times, “my wife Sara and I” would not have suddenly remembered, a decade after their parents died, the devoted care they received from Arab doctors and nurses.

If not for the missing Knesset votes for parliamentary immunity or the revolting so-called “French law,” protecting a sitting prime minister from prosecution, Netanyahu would not have discovered that there are Arab cities in Israel; he visited three of them over the past two weeks, full of words of love and reconciliation, sweeter than the sweetest knafeh pastry, more pampering than Santa Claus.

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Netanyahu has been hostile to the Arab community for years now. He has been legislating against it, instigating against it and excluding it. In 2015, he warned against mass Arab voting on Election Day (which did not happen). He has called Arab elected officials “supporters of terror.” He led the passage of the racist nation-state law and tried to push through the racist plan for cameras at polling stations. In the last election campaign, when he feared that Kahol Lavan was going to use the votes of the Arab parties to build a coalition, he lost all control. Racism and hatred of Arabs dominated Likud campaigns, both the official and underground ones. Everything was orchestrated from the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence, everything was inspired by him. His speeches were verbal assaults, the texts were horrifying. “Jews and non-Jews” he would say in speeches to the Knesset.

Only a total cynic like Netanyahu could kiss the face he had spit in so many times and pretend to enjoy it. Likud has always had some hold among Arabs. This time Netanyahu sees a window of opportunity through which he can expand that hold. The largely Arab Joint List has disappointed, it has become weak. He used Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz and discarded him. The voters are showing indifference. The vaccinations are coming along, and it must be said that his government has indeed provided funding to the Arab community.

This strategy (smart, it must be said) of his is not merely intended to scrounge up another vote there. That would be the bonus. The main goal from Netanyahu’s point of view is to legitimize – in the eyes of his voters – that which he himself had rendered illegitimate, so that after the election he can harness a few Arab lawmakers to his immunity-French law wagon. There will certainly be a few new ones from lawmaker Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List.

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Police detain a protester at a demonstration against Netanyahu's Nazareth visit, January 13, 2021. Credit: Gil Eliyahu
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Netanyahu at a highly-contested visit in Nazareth, January 13, 2021. Credit: Gil Eliyahu
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A man gives a rude gesture at a protest against Netanyahu's visit to Nazareth, January 13, 2021. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

After his shows of love and inclusion, which will grow more numerous until March 23, his fiercest supporters and inciters won’t come out against him if he makes Abbas a minister, or if the members of the United Arab List become his loyal partners in the Knesset. This will seem only natural to them. And once again it must be said, it is indeed natural. The time has come to bring Arab politicians into the government.

The leftists will certainly not be able to complain: The very things that their politicians always feared doing so that Likud wouldn’t sully them as Arab lovers and Jew haters, Netanyahu will do. That’s the way it was when he shook Yasser Arafat’s hand, when he recognized a Palestinian state in the Bar-Ilan speech, and when he froze construction in the settlements under American pressure.

The full column will be published in Friday’s Haaretz.