Will United Arab List be Israeli election kingmaker?

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JERUSALEM

Preliminary results of Israel’s general elections show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc has failed to win 61 seats in Knesset (Israel’s parliament) required to form a government.

According to exit polls, the pro-Netanyahu bloc won 52 seats in the 120-memer Knesset. The Likud party leader can still increase his share if he is able to convince the right-wing Yamina Party led by Naftali Bennett, which has seven seats, to join him.

However, Netanyahu will still need two more seats in parliament to be able to form a government.

Former Likud member and the head of the right-wing New Hope party, Gideon Sa’ar, whose party won six seats, said he refuses to join a Netanyahu-led government.

With this impasse, Israeli media predict that Netanyahu might be forced to reach an agreement with the United Arab List (Ra’am) headed led by Mansour Abbas, whose party has secured four seats.

So far, Netanyahu has refrained from assuming a clear position on this possibility, perhaps preferring to first exhaust other possible options.

According to Haaretz newspaper, the Likud Party is divided over seeking support from Ra’am to form a government.

The newspaper said that a heated debate has been taking place between members and leaders of the party via WhatsApp groups with the majority opposing the idea.

On Wednesday, the leading deputy of the Likud party, Miki Zohar, told the official Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation that he ruled out the possibility of Netanyahu forming a government with the support of Abbas.

However, shortly after, the Likud leader tweeted saying: “It is our duty to do everything, everything, to prevent the fifth election.”

“All available political options must be exhausted in order to form a government that works in the interest of all citizens of Israel because this is what is important for our country at the present time,” Zohar added.

The right-wing Religious Zionist Party headed by Bezalel Smotrich, which won six seats and has joined the Netanyahu government, has also staunchly rejected forming an alliance with Ra’am.

“Take it out of your heads. A right-wing government will not be formed with the support of Abbas”, Smotrich tweeted on Thursday, adding that “it will never happen.”

He also called Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar to “set aside personal matters and join hands” with Netanyahu to “form a right-wing government under his leadership” based on specific conditions.

Among these conditions, he specified “Israel annexing all Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).”

For his part, Abbas told the Panet Arabic News site that parties will “make calculations” on government formation once the final political map is drawn, highlighting that his party will make decisions based on the “interests of our Arab community.”

In response to a question whether he is willing to support Netanyahu, Abbas said: “The issue is not Netanyahu’s person.” He said that previous alliances with the left-wing have ended in failure and the same will happen with a right-wing party.

Instead, Abbas said his party will rely on itself and will only work with those ready to address the concerns of the Arab community and “correct” the mistakes done against them.

Final results of the Israeli elections are set to be announced Friday.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara

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