Will Arab-Jewish Political Cooperation Lead To Arab-Jewish Social Cooperation?

It seems as though Israel will avoid another national election, at least for now. A new coalition is expected to be sworn in Sunday after Yair Lapid was able to negotiate a coalition that would make another Member of Knesset, Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister. In the immediate aftermath of the March elections many people were skeptical that we would be here. For Lapid to succeed he would need the support of ideologically diverse Jewish parties, and even if he accomplished that he would still need to rely on the support of at least one primarily Arab party. An Arab party has only supported a Jewish majority government once in Israel’s history, in the 1990s at the beginning of the Oslo era. But the proposed new government would not only be supported by a primarily Arab party—the Islamist Ra’am party—they will be joining the governing coalition for the first time. There is hope that this new political cooperation will lead to greater social cooperation.


For advocates of co-existence, recent events have shown the opportunities moving forward. It is hard to overstate the significance of an Arab party potentially entering the political coalition, something that many in Israel have been advocating through previous rounds of elections. In particular, some of the parties openly seeking to oust Prime Minister Netanyahu have long acknowledged that the only way to do so would be with the support of the Arab parties.


One thing that changed this round was that Ra’am’s party leader, Mansour Abbas, declared a willingness to negotiate with both left-wing and right-wing Jewish parties. This gave him more leverage in the negotiations than Arab parties have previously had. As always with coalition negotiations there are competing elements of realpolitik and political theater, but this marks a moment of real change in Israeli politics.


At the same time, the proposed new government is remarkable because it comes on the heels of the recent escalation in Gaza and the unrest in Israel’s mixed Arab-Jewish cities. There were reports before the crisis that a similar coalition agreement would be finalized, but negotiations broke off and some party leaders threatened to back out of the deal during the escalation. We should be encouraged by the fact that such an ideologically diverse group could still come together even following the recent violence.


There has been concern that the unrest in the mixed cities would harm the co-existence efforts that have taken place there, but we know that our Israeli and Palestinian partners are resilient. It can be an uncomfortable truth that few people from different backgrounds in Israel have genuine connections with the “other” group. We spotlight them here, but of course we also know that there need to be more of these individuals to help bring about peace. We should take heart in the idea that political cooperation can be a catalyst for further social cooperation, and that our partners are continuing their work as hard now as they were before.


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