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Israel’s Arab politicians emerge from election with new political heft

The New York Times reports:

The right to speak directly after the prime minister? Meetings with all visiting heads of state? Monthly briefings from the Mossad?

For the first time, the perks of being the opposition leader in the Israeli Parliament could go to an Arab lawmaker.

That tantalizing prospect stems from an upsurge in voter turnout among the country’s Arab population in this week’s election, which has translated into increased political heft. At least 60 percent of the Arab electorate cast ballots this time, up from a record low of 49 percent just five months ago.

That has won the Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab parties, a projected 12 or 13 seats in the 120-seat Parliament as the final votes were being tallied on Wednesday. And the murky outcome for the main Jewish parties, locked in a tie, could allow the Joint List to play a rare and critical role.

It could support a centrist government from the outside, under certain conditions. Arab parties last provided that kind of safety net to the government established by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

Alternatively, if the two largest parties — Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud — end up in a unity government, the Joint List’s Ayman Odeh, heading the third-largest party, would be positioned to become opposition leader.

“That would be a very unique position to be in,” said Mohammad Darawshe, of the Center for Equality and Shared Society at Givat Haviva, “and one of historic value.”

After decades of political marginalization, Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of Israel’s population, are seeking fuller integration. “The mood is for engaging, not boycotting,” Mr. Darawshe said. [Continue reading…]

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