21:33 GMT24 February 2021
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    It's highly unlikely that Israeli Arabs have forgotten the prime minister's fiery 2015 speech in which he blamed them for pouring into polling stations to oust the PM, and one Israeli Arab journalist says Netanyahu's sweet overtures now will not help him win over their trust.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to lead in Israeli media polls, as another survey predicts the PM will get 32 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament.

    But the prime minister, who is readying himself for a fight in the upcoming elections on 23 March, is counting on much more, confiding to his inner circle that he aims to get 40 seats in the Knesset.

    Courting Arab Voters

    To obtain the aforementioned number, Netanyahu will need to "put boots on the ground" and tour cities and towns in a bid to secure more votes. But he will also need to put in a lot of time and effort in an attempt to win over those he previously refrained from courting, Israel's Arab population.

    Netanyahu has already set the ball rolling. At the beginning of January, he visited Umm Al Fahm, one of the largest Arab cities in Israel, posing for the cameras with people who got the Pfizer vaccine.

    Later in the month he visited Nazareth, the biggest Arab city in Israel, and vowed to help the community tackle the acute crime crisis that has been plaguing society.

    But Odeh Bisharat, an Arab author and publicist, who has been following the developments closely, says Netanyahu "can dream on" about getting the support of Arab voters and is certain that his strategy of sweet talking the community will not bear fruit.

    "Netanyahu thinks that by offering some good words of support, he will sooth the Arabs. He is mistaken. Our attitude towards him will not change".

    The main reason for this is that many Arabs still remember Netanyahu's fiery speech during the 2015 polls, when he warned of "Arabs pouring into the polling stations" and when he urged Israeli voters to cast their ballots in favour of his party Likud.

    Others still remember Netanyahu's social media messages from 2019, where he warned against a government that would be based on Arab parties and claimed that Israeli Arabs wanted to annihilate all Jews: "women, men, and children".

    "The prime minister finds himself in a tragic situation", says Bisharat. "His trial is about to start [in early February] and he knows that his standing among Jewish voters has weakened. So he is trying his luck elsewhere. But he won't be able to pull it off. Arabs will teach him a lesson", he promised.

    Arabs for Netanyahu 

    Yet, there are also those who are likely to buy the PM's promises and reports suggest Netanyahu is counting on biting off at least two seats from the Joint Arab List that in previous polls has received most Arab citizens' votes.

    Likud supporters, who spoke to Sputnik on condition of anonymity, fearing they would be harassed by society for their views, said they would cast their vote in favour of the PM due to the normalisation agreements he signed with a number of Muslim nations, a move that Bisharat deems "shameful" primarily because it didn't solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor did it improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 

    Others will slip in a Likud ballot because of the efforts Netanyahu has put in supporting and funding the Arab community.

    Throughout the years, Netanyahu's Likud has exerted great effort into bolstering Israeli Arabs. In 2015, for example, it approved a $4.5 billion budget and later on it pledged an additional $274 million in support of the country's Bedouins.

    That money went into improving infrastructure in Arab towns and villages, promoting equality and providing better education. Netanyahu has repeatedly said it was his efforts that turned fiction into reality and promised to step up his efforts in this respect if he is given another chance to lead the country after the March elections. 

    However, for Bisharat, who has been following the prime minister's conduct for years, Netanyahu's promises are no more than empty words that cannot be trusted and his actions are cynical, aimed at catering to one goal only - getting himself re-elected.

    "Netanyahu didn't fight for Arab society to get those billions of dollars. He was forced to do that by the country's liberal circles. Now he is claiming that he was our saviour. He is a liar. Bibi is known for not keeping his word and not respecting his allies".
    Tags:
    Middle East, Israeli Arabs, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
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