Opinion |

The Missing Knesset Seats

Zionist parties won’t cooperate with the Joint List, so absurdly, the positions of Arab MKs undermine the political ability to protect Israel from the extreme right.

Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield
From left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MKs Ayman Odeh, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi at the Knesset.
From left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MKs Ayman Odeh, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi at the Knesset.Credit: Emil Salman
Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield

There are many possible reasons why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to go to elections now. Perhaps he thinks Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is stealing the glory he thinks he himself deserves, as happened before the 2015 elections with Yair Lapid. Perhaps his conversations with United States President Donald Trump’s envoy made it clear to him that there’s no chance of advancing the plans of the extreme right and that he’s best off preempting Naftali Bennett and making sure the election isn’t called over broken promises to the settlements, but over the media that’s biased against him.

There are other reasons, of course, but the important and persistent question isn’t why Netanyahu is making a ruckus, but if it’s even possible to set up an alternative coalition in today’s social and political conditions.

Netanyahu has no government without the Kulanu party. But even if it turns out that Kahlon isn’t prepared to be humiliated again, especially when it’s clear that capitulating won’t prevent future insults or new elections – his 10 seats won’t be much help to the opposing camp. Even if he joins up with opposition parties Zionist Union, Meretz and Yesh Atid in an effort to form an alternative government in this Knesset, without elections, and even if Yesh Atid would agree to such a plan (as of now its spokesmen say it won’t), this opposition grouping would need at least 11 additional seats, preferably more, to succeed. Where will it find them?

The ultra-Orthodox parties have no reason to abandon a government that’s been good to them and continues to be. Even if Avigdor Lieberman finds a sufficient reason to leave his dream job as defense minister, he doesn’t have enough forces for the mission. This leaves the Joint Arab List with 13 precious seats, which those parties opposed to Netanyahu don’t want to make use of because they are perceived as being outside the Jewish and Zionist camp. That camp, in the eyes of most of the public, is the only camp that’s really relevant to the fate of the State of Israel, and thus relying on the Joint List’s assistance – even to bring down the Netanyahu regime – is considered illegitimate.

Therefore, in every struggle the camp that opposes the right suffers a serious disadvantage from the outset. This lack of 13 crucial seats ostensibly ties one of its hands and prevents it from enlisting all its forces in the ultimate struggle against the occupation and the trampling of democracy.

The unfortunate fact is that the Zionist parties, particularly from the center of the political map, won’t cooperate with a party made up mostly of people who reject Israel as a legitimate Jewish state. Even though the political positions of most of the Joint List are legitimate in and of themselves, they deal a fatal blow to the ability of the opposition to form an anti-Netanyahu coalition.

Absurdly, then, the positions of most of the Arab MKs on the Joint List, which the public hears morning and night, directly undermine the political ability of the rest of Israel’s non-right parties to protect Israel from the extreme right’s harsh policies toward the Palestinians and Israel’s Arabs.

It is important to remember that the more the Joint List strengthens and gets more seats, the obstacle it will pose to effective parliamentary action against the apartheid of the right will be even more destructive. Until this problem is resolved, the leftist and centrist parties will continue to suffer a paralyzing inability to affect change in Israel.

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