On Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin turned to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, and gave him a month to form a government. It won’t be easy. But the events since Israel’s March 2 election, the country’s third in less than a year, have provided Israelis a new political opportunity.
Blue and White won 33 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, fewer than Likud. But Gantz was endorsed by enough parties eager to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office that if they joined together to form a government they would give Gantz a 61-seat majority. Which is why Rivlin turned to Gantz.
What triggered the Rivlin move was Sunday’s announcement by the Arab-majority Joint List, which has 15 seats and constitutes Israel’s third largest party, that it favored giving Gantz the first shot at forming a government. But the Joint List’s endorsement is contingent on Gantz forming a center-left government rather than a unity or emergency government that would include Netanyahu, whose trial for corruption was postponed because of the coronavirus crisis.
There is, however, a major complication: The third partner in Gantz’s “coalition” is the anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu party of Avigdor Lieberman, who has said he would not join a government that included the Joint List.
Historically, there has never been an Israeli government that included a largely Arab party. The closest was Yitzhak Rabin’s minority government in 1992, which was supported by Arab parties from outside the coalition, and was the government that entered into the Oslo accords. Netanyahu hasn’t let anyone forget that fact, leading to some pretty shameless stoking of anti-Arab sentiment in the run-up to and following the March 2 election.
There is much uncertainty about the coalition path Gantz will pursue. Early reports indicate that Rivlin continues to push for a unity government of Blue and White and the right-wing Likud-led bloc, with whomever else would go along. But the prospect of a center-left coalition with the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu remains an enticing option.
Either way, the mere fact that the Arab parties are playing such a central role in the coalition discussions is significant. According to David Grossman in Yedioth Ahronoth, “This is an amazing moment of opportunity for Israel’s Arab citizens. Now they can stop acting as a ‘protest movement’ (and nothing more than that), and can be equal partners in shaping their lives and their futures.”
While it does not appear likely that the Joint List will be part of the next governing coalition, there is no question that the prospect of a more inclusive Israel — which is supported by and embraces its Jewish and Arab citizens equally — is an appealing prospect. Even if they don’t join the next government, we encourage the members of the Joint List to make the most of this opportunity to be a meaningful part of Israel’s promising future.