Intel: How the Palestinians are trying to take Netanyahu down via Israeli elections

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Feb. 17, 2019.  Photo by Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS.

Feb 19, 2019

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ weekend meeting with Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem is widely seen as a desperate gambit, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to coast to re-election on a security platform while Israeli peacemakers fade from the scene.

Why it matters: Abbas urged Salem, one of the influential Israeli Arab figures, to back a last-minute effort to reunite the four Arab-Israeli parties for the April elections. The Palestinian leader hopes to challenge Netanyahu through an Israeli Arab coalition with the center-left to usher in a new prime minister, as they did with Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

Divided they fall: The socialist Hadash, nationalist Balad, Islamist Raam and progressive Taal parties ran as a united political body in the 2015 elections, scoring 13 seats in the Knesset, their best showing ever. But Taal head Ahmad Tibi broke the partnership in January and announced that he would run alone when the other parties refused to let him lead the list despite polls showing his party could get six to eight seats versus only four to six seats for the others.

Foreign interference: The Israeli right wasted no time accusing Abbas of interfering in domestic politics. Ex-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the meeting proved that Israeli Arab leaders are more loyal to the Palestinian Authority than to Israel. Abbas himself said that he does not interfere directly in the Israeli elections but that it’s important to "stay strong" on the issue of peace.

Peacemaker quits: One of Abbas’ partners for peace talks, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, announced Monday that she was leaving the race after failing to join one of the other parties. Livni was the last senior diplomat on the Israeli center-left and her departure marks a big loss for that camp while confirming that Middle East peace is not a key election issue.

What's next: Negotiations between the parties continue. The deadline to register electoral lists with the election clerk is Thursday night.

Know more: Israel Pulse’s Shlomi Eldar delves into Jewish voters’ support for Ahmad Tibi's Arab party.

- Danny Zaken

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