Arab list will test Israeli democracy

February 26, 2015 12:35

If Isaac Herzog is asked by the president to form the next Israeli government, he will face the dilemma of whether to invite the United Arab Party to be a full member of his coalition.

In the past, no Israeli governments, including those on the left, have been prepared to fully incorporate the Arab parties into their government, not least because that would require them to sit around the cabinet table and be members of committees that would deal with sensitive security matters.

At the most, they have backed coalition governments from outside, supporting their legislation and preventing an alternative right-of-centre coalition from being formed. But never have they been full partners in a government and this raises difficult questions about the nature of Israeli democracy as it relates to the rights of the Arab-Palestinian minority.

But, this time around, the question of Arab incorporation will be more sensitive than in the past.

Contrary to expectations, the increase in the lower electoral threshold from 2 to 3.25 per cent has resulted in the unification of all four small Arab parties into a single large party.

The party leaders understood that were they to remain separate, they faced the real danger that none of the parties would pass the higher threshold and that they could end up with no seats at all - something which some of the right-wing proposers of the change had hoped would happen.

President Reuven Rivlin will also face a dilemma. On the one hand, Mr Rivlin's views on the Israel-Palestine conflict are clearly right-wing - he voted against the Oslo Accords. But equally, both as Speaker of the Knesset and since taking office as President, Mr Rivlin has focused strongly on the democratic and civilian rights of the country's Arabs.

A general drop in voting over

the past decade has been felt most strongly within the Arab sector. Since Ehud Barak led Labour, Arab participation in the elections has consistently decreased due to a sense of alienation from Jewish society and a feeling that the Labour Party betrayed them.

Also, almost no Arab citizens vote for Zionist or Jewish parties any longer, as many did in the past. They either vote for Arab parties or stay away from the polling booth altogether.

Neither is it clear that, if invited, the Arab parties would agree to be part of the coalition government. Since no government, even one led by Mr Herzog, will be able to move forward on the peace front as much as they would desire, they may opt not to be part of a government that does not automatically declare a total moratorium on all settlement activity or an immediate return to talks on establishing a Palestinian state sooner rather than later.

The challenges facing Israel's democracy are being constantly tested. The country's democracy will be judged, both internally and externally, according to the way that Israel's leaders relate to the electoral power of the Arab-Palestinian minority.

February 26, 2015 12:35

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive