In a meeting with the Israeli parliament’s Knesset’s right-wing bloc on Wednesday, March 4, PM Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the left-wing bloc did not receive 62 seats in the March 2 elections. For Netanyahu the left-wing bloc only received 47 seats, because, he argued, the Joint List, an Arab-led party that gained 15 seats, should not be counted as a legitimate part of the Knesset’s left wing, for they are not Zionists. But if the Joint List should not be counted on the left, where it truly belongs, its votes — according to Netanyahu’s reasoning — essentially don’t count at all.

Why is This Debate Happening?

During the recent March election, none of Israel’s parties reached the 62-seat requirement to be able to form the next government. The Joint List gained more seats than the previous rounds of elections with 15 seats. However, the parties in opposition to Netanyahu’s re-election did reach 62 seats, though they are unlikely to form a coalition that would include all 15 Joint List lawmakers to form the next government.

“The people’s will is clear,” Netanyahu said. “The national Zionist camp includes 58 seats. The leftist Zionist camp includes 47 seats.” “The Joint List, which attacks our soldiers and opposes the state of Israel, is not part of the equation,” he concluded.

Although Netanyahu’s declarations appear to have shocked many, some say they only reflect a true reality in Israeli politics across the board. Netanyahu has built his political campaigns on anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab sentiment, a rallying cry among his base as tensions with Palestinians grow amid controversial policies often in favor of Israel.

Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Recently, the conflict has seen a sharp revival after Donald Trump announced his late-January “Deal of the Century”, which Palestinians received as sheer incitement. During his last campaign, Netanyahu also promised the building of hundreds of thousands of new settlements in territories already occupied or to be annexed according to the Trump deal.

But over the past 15 months, Israel’s Arabs were the most demonized and portrayed as a fifth column by Netanyahu. He often urged voters to take to ballots because Arabs were voting “in droves”. To Netanyahu, Arab — and particularly Muslim — citizens are almost by default enemies of the state of Israel. Trump’s deal says Palestinians must recognize Israel as the unique and sovereign nation state of the Jewish people. The new deal would also have some 400,000 Arab citizens pushed out of Israeli borders.

The deal has sparked a new wave of violence, which even beforehand had seen an increase. In 2019, Israeli forces killed 133 Palestinians, 28 of whom were minors. That same year, 10 Israelis were killed including 1 minor. Trump’s deal, which attributes about one third of the West Bank to Israel, demands a demilitarized Palestinian state with no control over its own borders or sea and air space. Even the tunnels and bridges linking the sparse Palestinian lands would be under Israeli supervision. Trump’s “peace plan” already appears to stand at the antipodes of resolving the decades-long problem.

Are Any Israeli Parties Willing to Work With the Joint List?

Kahol Lavan is the only party on the left wing willing to cooperate with the Arab-led Joint List. It recently said it was now more likely to form a minority government with the Joint List, in condition of excluding 3 of its lawmakers. The Joint List, perceived as only wanting to further the interests of Arabs in Israel, said last summer that it was ready to take part in the Israeli government.

Yet analysts consider the only instance left-wing parties would team up with the Joint List is when it is indispensable to push Netanyahu out. This time, if Benny Gantz gets a chance to form a coalition before Netanyahu, a bill (proposed by Kahol Lavan) may be passed to ban an indicted individual from forming a government. Such law doesn’t exist yet, but it clearly aims at impeding Netanyahu, whose trial on corruption charges will start next week.

Netanyahu: Gantz’s Party ‘Undermines the Foundation of Democracy’ in Israel

Netanyahu said Gantz’s linkup with the Joint List is dangerous. “The movement Gantz is leading undermines the foundation of democracy,” he also said at the meeting. “He is trying to cancel out what the people determined,” he went on, before adding that he and his party have “repeatedly warned that Gantz is linking up with terror supporters.”

But even within Kahol Lavan the idea of closing ranks with the Joint List has been rejected when the option was considered during earlier elections. Members like Yaoz Hendel and Zvi Hauser — both former Netanyahu staffers— had vehemently objected to the idea. In the previous round of elections, Gantz was even quoted as having said, “Because of Zvika and Hendel I am not prime minister,” according to Haaretz.

Moreover, Kahol Lavan and Yisrael Beiteinu — today’s major opponents to Netanyahu — also said they were willing to form a government with Likud, provided that it is not led by Netanyahu. Nonetheless the fact remains that to effect Netanyahu’s departure the Knesset’s left bloc may need to work with the Joint List, which is parliament’s third-largest party.

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