You have to get used to it, Israel is not a country like the others. Normalcy, the ultimate goal of the Zionist project, is still out of reach, in the way the world looks at the Jewish state or in the way it looks at itself. Who would have imagined that Benyamin Netanyahu’s downfall would be brought about by the most disparate, original and unlikely coalition on the planet’s political scene?
Under the leadership of the new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, from the religious right and supporter of the annexation of the West Bank, personalities that everything seems to separate are working. A leftist heiress and LGBT passionary, Merav Michaeli, Minister of Transport, poses next to the star of the annexationist right, Ayelet Shaked, Minister of the Interior. The Minister of Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej, an Israeli Arab member of Meretz, the far-left party that campaigns for the evacuation of settlements, fraternises with Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of Finance, leader of the “Israel Beitenou” (“Israel Our Home”) party, which was once famous for its anti-Arab diatribes. The list of ministers resembles Jacques Prévert’s inventory. Yair Lapid, Minister of Foreign Affairs, centrist and secular activist, seems to be the opposite of Naftali Bennett whom he will replace as Prime Minister in 2023 according to the rotation agreement.
But the most astonishing and symbolic is the ultimate alliance that allowed the coalition to exist and finally give Israel a government after four elections in two years. The alliance with Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist party Raam, the eighth guest of this political surprise party that is as halal as it is kosher.
Mansour Abbas, a 47-year-old dentist, comes from Maghar, in the north. A town with a Druze majority, but he is not. A fervent Muslim, this Islamist is more pure than hard. Raam is indeed the political arm of the southern branch of the Islamic party. He differs from the northern branch led by the very nervous Sheikh Raed Salah. The latter is serving a 28-month prison sentence for incitement to terrorism. He is the man behind the recurrent and deadly riots on the Esplanade of the Mosques (the Temple Mount for the Jews) in recent years.
Mansour Abbas is his antithesis. He is an adept at negotiation and intends to defend the interests of his community. He considers the systematic opposition of the United Arab List, which he joined for a time, to be counterproductive.
Israeli Arabs, who refer to themselves as “Palestinians of Israel”, represent 20% of the population. They are found in all sectors of society. Without Arab doctors, the massive vaccination campaign could never have worked. Arab and Jewish cardiologists work together at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to treat children from the Palestinian territories and Gaza. The vice-president of the Hebrew University is an Israeli Arab. But the social divide is widening, in a country given over to the unbridled ultra-liberalism of Netanyahu’s reign. Gang violence is bloodying the community, which blames the Israeli police for not helping it enough.
As the conflict raged last May between Israel and Hamas, the spectre of civil war between Arabs and Jews loomed large. There were deaths and attacks on both sides. A much deeper trauma for Israelis than the other conflict. For it constitutes a vital threat to this country where the Children of Abraham generally work and live together, with the same passport adorned with a seven-branched candlestick.
It was therefore urgent to reconcile Jews and Arabs. Mansour Abbas, the day after the riots, went to the synagogue of Lod, burnt down, affirming that he would participate in its reconstruction. A gesture that cemented the agreement with Naftali Bennett.
The head of the Raam party, now in charge of Arab affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office, overcame two challenges in his first two weeks in office. First, the “march of the flags” organised in Jerusalem by the extreme right and which constitutes a considerable source of tension for the Palestinians. Then the extension of the law on family reunification which prohibits the granting of Israeli nationality to a Palestinian from the West Bank in case of marriage with a Palestinian woman from Israel. Mansour Abbas finally rallied after compromises with Ayelet Shaked, in the Interior Ministry. Nothing fits and yet everything fits.
“The gamble of integrating an Arab party into the Israeli political process is a major step,” observes Pascale Zonszain, editor of the magazine Menora. “It can mark the beginning of a long-term conceptual change on the integration of the Israeli population.”
In any case, it will now be more difficult to accuse the Jewish state of apartheid!
* Journalist and essayist, editor in chief at weekly magazine Marianne, specialist in Islamism and Middle-East affairs.