Israel’s political soup pot was bubbling as the deadline approached this week for parties to declare their candidate lists ahead of the April 9 Knesset election. In recent weeks in this space, we’ve looked at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, and newcomer Benny Gantz and his attempt to make his new centrist party not too left and not too right.
In fact, all of Israel’s political players are in flux. A party must win a minimum of 3.5 percent of the votes to be seated in the Knesset, forcing some weaker parties to consider merging. One striking casualty of recent Israeli political history is the Zionist left, which may be best identified as the parties that favor a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and security guarantees for Israel. Represented by Labor and Meretz, the Zionist left also opposes the settlement project in the West Bank and is critical of the Nation State Law and other Netanyahu legislation that reduces Israel’s Arab citizens to second-class status.
Those positions are very much in line with a part of the Israeli electorate that is generally written out of the political picture: the Arab citizens of Israel themselves. In an opinion piece last week in Foreign Policy, Mikhael Manekin and Ameer Fakhoury suggested that in the short run, “the need to win elections mandates a renewed approach to a political alliance between the Jewish left and the Palestinian Arab parties.” The lack of trust on both sides makes it unlikely, the writers stated, but “even a thin pragmatic alliance can greatly benefit both sides.”
In fact, there may be no need for formal party cooperation. As some pundits have noted, Ahmad Tibi, chairman of the Taal party, which Tibi withdrew from the Arab Joint List, may be attractive to some Jewish Israelis, since he focuses on promoting socioeconomic legislation for the weakest segments of Israeli society, including both Jews and Arabs.
Tibi currently has six seats in the Knesset. Perhaps some of the Zionist left will find common ground with him, thereby increasing their joint numbers. While such a move would almost certainly spark condemnation from all sides about “colluding with the enemy,” the growing irrelevance of the far left in developing governmental policy may compel anxious politicians to search for and find points of agreement.
Notwithstanding the recurring political frustrations of the left, national polls repeatedly show that a majority of Israelis favor peace with the Palestinians. The challenge for the current leadership of the Israeli political left is to figure out how to leverage that preference into political influence, in order to have a voice in future discussions of peace alternatives.
They have their work cut out for them, and very little remaining time or opportunity to get it done.