Tight Israeli vote means Arab Islamist could choose next PM

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 23, 2021 file photo, Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, also known by the Hebrew name Ra'am, votes for Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Maghar, Israel. After a hard-fought election, an Arab Islamist could choose Israels next prime minister. Tuesdays elections have left a razor-thin margin between a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a diverse array of parties bent on ousting him. Each side needs the support of Ra'am. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

JERUSALEM – After a hard-fought election, an Arab Islamist could choose Israel's next prime minister.

You read that correctly.

Tuesday's elections have left a razor-thin margin between a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a diverse array of parties bent on ousting him.

To prevail, each side may need the support of an Arab Islamist party that appears to have clinched just five seats in the 120-member Knesset but is not committed to either, according to near-final results.

That means the United Arab List, known by the Hebrew name Ra'am, could decide whether Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, remains in office.

It's an odd predicament for Netanyahu, who rose to power by rejecting compromise with the Palestinians and has used racist rhetoric in past campaigns to cast the country's Arab minority as a fifth column of terrorist sympathizers.

This time, however, in Israel's fourth elections in two years, Netanyahu sought Arab support in what many saw as a two-pronged strategy aimed at picking up votes and splitting the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties that won a record 15 seats in elections last year.

If so, he succeeded, convincing Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, to run a separate list. Now Abbas appears to hold the keys to the kingdom.