Middle east

From ‘Terror Supporters’ to Legitimate Partners: Will Israel’s Raam Join Netanyahu’s Coalition?

The Islamic party extended a helping hand to Netanyahu, indicating that it was ready to support his government, says an Israeli Arab publicist. But such a coalition is unlikely to be established, he says, as Raam supporters will find it hard to swallow a partnership with Jewish hardliners. And so will a number of Israeli hawks.

In the past, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu branded them as terrorist supporters “who wanted to destroy Israel”.

Now, as he is struggling to obtain the 61 signatures needed to form a government, he is looking at Raam, an Islamic party that received 4 seats in the Israeli parliament, as a possible saviour able to help him to remain at the helm.

Extending a Helping Hand

So far, it seems that Raam is inclined to give the backing that Netanyahu is looking for, putting aside the grievances of the past.

“Raam’s chief, Mansour Abbas, has already decided that he will throw his support behind Netanyahu. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the steps he had taken”, said Odeh Bisharat, an Israeli Arab publicist, in reference to an address given by Raam’s chief on Saturday, where he spoke of unity between Jews and Arabs.

At the beginning of February, Abbas announced he would run in the parliamentary race of March independently, splitting away from the Joint Arab List to which he previously belonged. Back then, reports suggested that he went ahead with the move to join forces with Netanyahu, who allegedly promised him funds would be poured into the Arab community.

That move brought Abbas 150,000 votes in the last round of general polls and those translated into four seats in the Knesset. A recent poll revealed that 90 percent of Raam’s supporters approved of the party’s conduct.

But Bisharat says the majority of the Arab public still disapprove of his decision to split from the Joint Arab List and of extending a hand to Netanyahu, who was responsible for “sowing divisions” in their society. 

“The majority doesn’t believe Netanyahu. Plus, the Arab population has always been struggling to obtain its rights. It was through this struggle that they managed to gain many achievements, without relinquishing their national identity and their support for the Palestinian people. Now they feel that Abbas’ decision to split abandoned that path and harmed their heritage and national dignity”.

Illegitimate Partners 

It is not only the Arab population that disapproves of the possible cooperation between Raam and Netanyahu. Members of the PM’s conservative bloc are also struggling to accept the prospect of an Islamic body forming a coalition with parties that stick to hawkish agenda.

Such is the case with the Religious Zionist Union, whose chief Batzalel Smotrich has already stated that he will not sit with “terrorist supporters”, nor will he rely on them to form a government. 

Similar views have been expressed by members of another religious list, the United Torah Judaism, and by representatives of Yamina, the party of former Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, who hasn’t spoken on the matter yet. And this means that unless a miracle occurs, Israel is not likely to form a government.

“Abbas will find it difficult to explain to his voters how he joined a government with such racists as Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir [leader of Otzma Yehudit – ed.]. At the same time, those two will struggle rely on Abbas for support. And under these circumstances, a fifth round of national polls is not such a far-fetched possibility”, Bisharat says.

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