Few had expected quick results, or any at all, to follow the “Abraham Accords” that the UAE and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington in September 2020 a couple of months before US President Donald Trump ran for a second term in the White House.
Within nine months, however, two remarkable things have followed: One, the 11-day Jerusalem-Hamas conflict did not escalate into a full-scale Arab-Israel war—except beyond a minor war of word. This when more than 200 Palestinian died in Gaza, which Israel target-bombed to destroy what it called ‘terror infrastructure’ after Hamas missile-attacked Jerusalem and other areas.
Two, within a couple of weeks after this war, and for the first time in history, an Arab Muslim political party has become a kingmaker in Israel, signalling the arrival of “Abraham Accords-II”. The Saudis, and other Arabs, could sign peace deals with Israel to counter the threats from non-Arab Muslim countries like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan, within the larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Jeddah.
In the 21st century, a grand Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation may be slowly emerging. It has the potential to bring about a “Muslim Renaissance” the second largest community in the world is expecting for a long time so as to shake off the burden of obscurantism, terrorism, and backwardness to join the global mainstream of development.
After several trials and errors, this megatrend actually began a decade ago with the “Arab Spring” heralding the retreat of feudalism and dynastic power transfer in the Muslim world. For that matter, even Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is targeting to resurrect the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate, is a democratically-elected leader.
Democracy, therefore, is in the air in the world’s most volatile region.
Israel is no exception.
After helming Israel for 12 crucial years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing ouster after his opponents announced a deal last week to replace him. Curiously, for the first time, a minor Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), has emerged as the kingmaker in Israel’s democracy as part of the anti-Netanyahu coalition.
The dramatic announcement made by Opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner Naftali Bennett came soon after a deadline at last Wednesday midnight and prevented the Jewish country from plunging into its fifth consecutive election in just over two years.
“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it, and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society’, Lapid tweeted.
However, no one is sure of this new government’s longevity. For, the coalition partners are still not clear on many issues except their opposition to Netanyahu. Its leaders, centrist Yair Lapid and ultranationalist and hardliner Naftali Bennett will lead the country as PM by rotation, with Bennett taking oath first.
Curiously, his right-wing party failed to cross the electoral threshold in 2019 and had no seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Two years later, he is ready to replace his former boss as the next PM.
A former chief of staff to then-opposition leader, Netanyahu, Bennett could now unseat the PM, bringing an end to his run as the country’s longest serving PM, for 12 years.
Despite his far-right beliefs, a former Defence Minister and millionaire Bennett, 49, has signed onto a historic coalition agreement with centrist leader Yair Lapid who cobbled together a wide swath of political parties together accounting for 61 seats out of 120 in parliament to oust Netanyahu.
And, for the first time in Israeli history, a Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), led by a dentist Dr. Mansour Abbas, has emerged as the second kingmaker, in an awkwardly assembled coalition of unlikeliest parties, like that of the then Indian PM V P Singh’s in the 1989-91 period.
If Israel’s parliament green-signals, Bennett will take the top job for the first two years of a four-year term, followed by Lapid.
Interestingly, Bennett is even more ultranationalist than Netanyahu and will carry into office a history of incendiary remarks about Palestinians and his well-known criticism of the two-state solution and the ambition to annex part of the occupied West Bank.
Because of his far-right beliefs, Israelis gave only seven seats to Bennett’s Yamina party in the March 2021 elections, compared to Netanyahu’s 30 in the 120-member Knesset. But Bennett found himself the first kingmaker, wooed by both Netanyahu and Lapid who needed his party’s support in order to form a majority.
After his fallout, Bennett became a fierce Netanyahu critic, condemning his pandemic Covid-19 handling and country’s interminable political deadlock. Four elections in two years left the country in flux, with Netanyahu simultaneously appearing to be both stubbornly unmovable yet perpetually on the cusp of losing power.
It is in this backdrop that Bennett will become the PM.
Not only Abbas is the odd partner, even the two main coalition partners are also unlikely bedfellows. A charismatic former TV anchor, Lapid supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians and opposes the influence of religion in Israel, which he wants to address through steps like mixed civil marriages.
Bennett’s coalition agreement must first get a vote of confidence in the Knesset within a week of being formally notified as the PM of a new government. This step might not happen until Monday, which means the vote could be held as late as June 14.
That means there’s still time for Netanyahu and his allies to convince members of parliament to defect from the coalition, or somehow tie things up procedurally in parliament. A collapse of the ceasefire with the Hamas-led militants in Gaza or another outside event could also topple the burgeoning new government.
Apart from this internal Israeli politics, the Abbas factor is of crucial importance. If he remains survives as part of the government, he could become a source of inspiration to other Muslim leaders to reconcile with the Jews, bring peace to the region, and herald an era of Muslim Renaissance.