Despite Terror Wave, Political Interests Ensure Coalition Stability in Israel – for Now
Islamist United Arab List-Ra’am party seems to be the ‘most stable element in the government,’ analyst says
When the Bennett government was sworn in almost a year ago there were many skeptics who thought it would be short-lived. Made up of a wide array of Israeli political parties – from Islamist to right-wing nationalist, the coalition was an unlikely union.
In recent days, tensions have soared as a result of the killing of eight civilians and three police officers, slain in three terror attacks in Israeli cities. The casualties marked the deadliest week Israel has experienced since the aftermath of second intifada in 2006. Barring some escalations in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, most Israelis have grown accustomed to a terror-free daily life.
For the fragile government coalition, the first in decades to include an Arab party, events pose a major test.
Arab participation in government is no small feat. Many Jews in Israel view Arab citizens as an internal security threat. A significant portion of Israeli Arabs have family ties with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Two of the recent attacks were carried out by Israeli Arabs with ties to ISIS, highlighting the brittle fabric of life in the country. The most recent was committed by a Palestinian from the West Bank with links to the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Should Israel decide it needs to undertake a major military effort, it is difficult to foresee how the diverse coalition will survive.
With the start of Ramadan on Saturday evening, and ahead of Passover and Easter, tensions threaten to rise further.
Since the Muslim holy month began, Jerusalem’s Old City has seen clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians. There is also an uptick of violence in the West Bank.
Last May, heightened tensions in Jerusalem led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. During the conflict, relations between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis reached an all-time low, as clashes and violent exchanges were seen in cities around the country.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has ordered the military and police to be on the highest level of alert, and called on eligible citizens to carry their personal weapons. All the while he leads a coalition that has members from the United Arab List-Ra’am party, a conservative Islamist party with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Bennett himself leads the Yamina party, an ultra-nationalist party and an unnatural partner of Ra’am.
When Bennett decided to form the coalition, he faced heavy criticism from the right wing. Until today, many within the bloc refer to him as a traitor who gave up nationalist ideology for his own political benefit.
Member of Knesset Mansour Abbas, who heads Ra’am, was quick to condemn each of the attacks.
“I am committed to all the citizens of Israel,” Abbas tweeted. “It is impossible not to notice extremist interest groups that insist on harming the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs in the country. We will not let them. To this I have committed … repeatedly.”
The stability of the coalition is definitely being tested. But it has not been harmed and it might even strengthen.
Ra’am, the only non-Zionist party in the coalition, was considered to be its weakest link at the onset and the most likely to drop out first. This appears to have changed.
“Ra’am seems to be the most stable element in the coalition,” said Afif Abu Much, a political analyst and activist. “Therefore, it will not lead to the dismantling of the government, because it wants to show its voters achievements. Statements are not enough. Arab voters want to feel a change in their daily lives.”
Despite securing significant budgets for its causes, Ra’am still hasn’t had enough time to deliver on its promises.
Critics of the government said the attacks were a result of its weakness and that its hands were tied due to the presence of an Islamist party in the coalition.
But Israeli governments have always dealt with waves of violence and complex security issues. This has been the weak spot for all coalitions and is always subject to heated debate among Israelis.
“The current tensions will not topple the government,” said Eran Vigoda-Gadot, a professor of public administration at the University of Haifa.
“Clearly, under such a terror wave a decisive response is needed, but none of the elements in the government has voiced criticism against the security forces in their recent actions,” Vigoda-Gadot said.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, speaking at The Jerusalem Post London Conference last week, said in response to criticism of the government’s actions that: “We are free to do anything we need.” Shaked is part of Bennett’s Yamina.
Abbas and Ra’am now hold key positions in the Knesset. As part of the coalition agreement, the party secured over $9 billion in the annual budget to improve the quality of life for Arab citizens of Israel.
Arab Israelis make up approximately 21% of the population.
“It is quite amazing to see that Arabs, right-wing and left-wing parties are sitting together and working,” said Vigoda-Gadot. “The fact that the government has been able to execute plans and approve a budget after three years without a national budget and also deal with the security situation so far in a reasonable manner is commendable.”
The longer the violence persists, the greater the pressure will be on the government to respond with great force.
“We need to restore security for the citizens of Israel,” tweeted former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party and leader of the opposition. “Unfortunately, the current government that is dependent on the Islamic Movement is incapable of doing this.”
Ra’am is the political wing of the moderate Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
During over a decade of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister, Israel experienced waves of terrorism. Netanyahu also negotiated with Ra’am in a failed attempt to form a government last year, making his criticism less credible.
There will be tensions sometimes and each of the parties has political interests that need to be taken into consideration. But dismantling the government is not in the interest of any of the coalition members right now.
While the coalition has dealt with numerous political crises since it was sworn in in June 2021, it has managed to overcome them, perhaps cementing the unlikely partnership.
“The stability of the coalition is definitely being tested,” said Vigoda-Gadot. “But it has not been harmed and it might even strengthen.”
The fact that, given its razor-thin majority, each member of the coalition has the ability to topple the government in the current political constellation could be serving as a guarantee for its survival, regardless of the challenges ahead. So far, there have been no voices within the coalition curtailing the national response to attacks.
“There will be tensions sometimes and each of the parties has political interests that need to be taken into consideration,” said Abu Much. “But dismantling the government is not in the interest of any of the coalition members right now.”
For now, it seems even a major escalation will not threaten the stability of the government.