In Praise of Normalcy

Netanyahu and other Knesset faction leaders, Jerusalem, July 20, 2019.
Emil Salman

Amid all the noise of the new coronavirus outbreak, the economic uncertainty and the political impasse, something good happened this week: Representatives of Kahol Lavan met with representatives of all four of the predominantly Arab parties that make up the Joint List in order to discuss the possibility of cooperation.

Granted, the likelihood of forming a narrow government headed by Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz with the Joint List supporting it from the outside aren’t great. But the very fact that this dialogue is taking place for the first time, after years in which Arab Knesset members were excluded from such discussions, is of enormous importance. Regardless of the results of these coalition talks, Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, will benefit from the legitimacy conferred on Jewish-Arab cooperation, given the incitement, exclusion and racist attitudes promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even people who have reservations about the Arab MKs, their positions or their controversial remarks ought to welcome this dialogue. Israel’s Arab citizens gained significant political power in the last election ­– 15 Knesset seats – and they are participating in the political game and trying to get the most out of it. This is a much better situation than after the April 2019 election, in which Arab voters largely stayed away from polling stations and signaled despair regarding the concept of coexistence.

The legislators of the Joint List are putting the Arab community’s most urgent needs on the table – the incidence of violent crime in the community, the shortage of land for the expansion of their community and the shortage of housing (and the so-called Kaminitz Law, which stiffened the penalties for building without a permit) and the provision of U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace that raises the possibility of territorial exchanges under which the communities of the so-called Little Triangle would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

It is in the interest of Israeli Jews on both the left and the right of the political spectrum that a solution be found to the problems of the country’s Arab community. The fact that the Joint List is focusing on domestic issues during the coalition negotiations merely strengthens this interest. Obviously, Joint List lawmakers are not relinquishing their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor should they. But they are putting them aside momentarily in favor of civic issues. The right’s rejection of this dialogue stems from a fear of losing power. But Kahol Lavan must continue promoting it, in order to further the interests of Israeli society as a whole.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.