United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas’ willingness to join a coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu makes him a “political whore,” according to Rogel Alpher, someone not worthy of the left wing’s favor (Haaretz Hebrew edition, June 16). In contrast to Alpher, I have no problem with the fact that Abbas does not rule out sitting in a coalition even with right-wing extremists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. “We don’t disqualify anyone; there are those who disqualify us,” he said, correctly. After all, if Ben-Gvir and Smotrich agreed to join a coalition with Abbas and his colleagues, they would no longer be “Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.”
In contrast to Alpher and others on the left, supporting the current “government of change” is no trivial matter, in my view. From the moment the fight against corruption (the cases against Netanyahu) became the be-all and end-all, and the revulsion towards Netanyahu’s electoral base (the so-called Bibi-ists) overshadowed the opposition to him and his path, and after seeing the ease with which figures – who until recently epitomized the process leading Israel to become more fascist (Bennett, Shaked, Sa’ar, Lieberman) – have become the left wing’s darlings only because they’ve become opponents of Netanyahu, I’ve lost the sense of belonging to the “anyone-but-Bibi” camp; my identification with this camp has cracked.
I confess that at moments in which the only way to justify opposition to the incumbent government is the anti-Bibi-ist sentiment, my instinct is to resist. In the constant ambivalence regarding the current government there is one element that helps me catch my bearings, and that is Mansour Abbas. His partnership in a coalition is a necessary and sufficient condition for my support of such a coalition. This means that I support the current government of left and right as long as Abbas is part of it. It also means that if Abbas joined a government of the right and the ultra-Orthodox, I’d still be in favor of it. The reason for this is that I trust Abbas and the civil revolution he is leading. I believe his success is the topmost priority of this country.
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More than that: in some respects, a Jewish-Arab partnership in a full-blown right-wing government is preferable, since it has greater potential to promote a change in what it means to be an Israeli citizen. Right-wing Jewish lawmakers who give legitimacy – with their seats – to Arab-Jewish partnership in a government herald a more dramatic change than a partnership between the left and Arabs. The reason is that right-wing Jews, who comprise the majority of the public, have to travel a much longer path in order to be capable of taking such a step.
When Netanyahu embarked on negotiations with the United Arab List, I believed that the fact that he was legitimizing a partnership with the party – even if for the wrong reasons – was welcome, even at the cost of his remaining in power. I thought that if thanks to Netanyahu, cooperation with an Arab party would no longer be beyond the pale, it was worth it (and I don’t delude myself with regard to Netanyahu’s motivation.)
To all appearances, the government of change has proven this. Without the talks between Netanyahu and Abbas, there is no way Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Benny Gantz and even Yair Lapid would have formed a coalition with the United Arab List. In that sense, Netanyahu sowed the seeds of change, with Bennett and Lapid reaping it. But one should not forget that Bennett did not lead a mass movement to this partnership, and his room for maneuvering was dictated in advance by Netanyahu. Bennett will also not take one step to the left of what Netanyahu legitimized. Bennett has already done what he can do. Holding out will be his greatest achievement.
Without demeaning this achievement and the urgent need – in my view as well – to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power, the fact that we didn’t get to see Netanyahu form a coalition with Abbas, and Netanyahu’s followers backing this move naturally while undergoing a change in the process, is a missed opportunity.