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What A New Israeli Coalition Government Would Mean For Arabs

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today we may find out if Israeli leaders were able to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an almost-everyone-but-Bibi coalition. Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid is trying to form a unity government with right-wing candidate Naftali Bennett and left-wing parties, and an Arab party is part of the talks as well. Recall that many Palestinians are citizens of Israel. They get to vote. And a few serve in Israel's Knesset and have for years. An Arab leader, Mansour Abbas, is part of the coalition talks - could bring an Arab party into the government for the first time ever. Let's discuss this with Arik Rudnitzky. He is a researcher at The Israel Democracy Institute and part of what's called the Arab-Jewish Relations Program. Welcome to the program, sir.

ARIK RUDNITZKY: Good morning, Steve. And thank you for having me with you today.

INSKEEP: What role have Palestinian legislators played in the past?

RUDNITZKY: Well, since statehood, since the first Knesset elections, Palestinian or Arab members have played a significant role in the Knesset. And actually, according to a study that we have done in The Israel Democracy Institute, they have been quite active for an opposition player. And this is a real change here. The Arab public would like to have this representative play a more significant and efficient role, and the Knesset does not - is not perceived as an effective means to achieve the goals or take care of the burning issue of the - our society (ph) as much as the government is perceived, as Israel - place (ph) where decisions have been taken and implemented.

INSKEEP: I guess we should explain for the American audience, this is like the difference between the presidency and the administration and Congress. They want to get into the administration. What's in it for Palestinians, though? Why would they want to get in now?

RUDNITZKY: So we are actually witnessing a historic moment for our politics, and our party is expected to enter the government for the first time in history. And the - furthermore, it is going to do it not from behind the scenes but from the front door. Just to illustrate - well, Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List, is expected to be the chair of the Knesset Interior Committee, which is one of the most important committees in charge of security, internal security, planning and building. These are the most sensitive and burning issues that are very important, very much important, to the Arab sector

INSKEEP: And get to the whole idea of Israel in its ongoing conflict with Palestinians over the land, which comes to another thing - Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister that this coalition is trying to replace, described the addition of Palestinian Israelis in the government as a stab in Israel's back. Do right-wing Israelis have an idea of Israel that includes Arabs, Muslims, in their midst?

RUDNITZKY: I think that we have to differentiate between political statements and actual political conduct on the ground. We do know that just a couple of months ago, Benjamin Netanyahu himself had direct conversations with the same Mansour Abbas, and the entire issue of a Arab party joining the government has been put explicitly on the table for the last five or six months. So this is not a surprise. This is an incremental, aggregated process of an Arab party trying to position itself as a relevant partner for the government. And obviously, we are not surprised that sitting - or acting prime minister is realizing that he is going to lose his power, or he's trying to do anything to delegitimize his replacement.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, do you feel that, broadly speaking, most Israelis do have an - most Jewish Israelis do have an idea of their country that includes Arabs as a permanent part of that country?

RUDNITZKY: Well, here are the good news - according to recent polls that we've conducted through The Israel Democracy Institute, the idea of an Arab party joining the coalition has been accepted in wider circles among the Jews in Israel, not only in the Israeli population at large.

INSKEEP: Dr. Rudnitzky, thank you so much.

RUDNITZKY: My pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: One of many perspectives we're hearing on the conflict in the Middle East. Dr. Arik Rudnitzky, researcher at The Israel Democracy Institute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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