In Israeli Election, a Chance for Arabs to Gain Influence — or Lose It

“After more than a decade with Netanyahu in power, some Arab politicians have put forward a new approach: If you can’t beat him, join him,” said Mohammad Magadli, a well-known Arab television host. “This approach is bold, but it is also very dangerous.”

Palestinian citizens of Israel form more than a fifth of the Israeli population. Since the founding of the state in 1948, they have always sent a handful of Arab lawmakers to Parliament. But those lawmakers have always struggled to make an impact.

Jewish leaders have not seen Arab parties as acceptable coalition partners — some on the right vilifying them as enemies of the state and seeking the suspension of Arab lawmakers from Parliament. For their part, Arab parties have generally been more comfortable in opposition, lending infrequent support only to center-left parties whose influence has waned since the start of the century.

In some ways, this dynamic worsened in recent years. In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the threat of relatively high Arab turnout — “Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations,” he warned on Election Day — to scare his base into voting. In 2018, his government passed new legislation that downgraded the status of Arabic and formally described Israel as the nation-state of only the Jewish people. And in 2020, even his centrist rival, Benny Gantz, refused to form a government based on the support of Arab parties.

But a year later, as Israel heads to its fourth election in two years of political deadlock, this paradigm is rapidly shifting.

Mr. Netanyahu is now vigorously courting the Arab electorate. Following his lead, Yair Lapid, a centrist contender for the premiership, said he could form a coalition with Arab lawmakers, despite disparaging them earlier in his career. Two left-wing parties have promised to work with an alliance of Arab lawmakers to advance Arab interests.

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