22:47 GMT04 March 2021
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    A recent survey found that 25 percent of Israeli Arabs polled were ready to work work side-by-side with the Israeli PM; a researcher says this is because of Netanyahu's promises to tackle raging crime and the coronavirus pandemic.

    A quarter of Israeli Arabs want to cooperate with the country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute revealed.

    This is despite Netanyahu's 2015 remarks, where he warned Jewish voters about Arabs "pouring into the polling stations", endangering the rule of his conservative party despite his efforts to delegitimise Arab members of the Israeli parliament, who were often branded as terrorists and traitors by the PM and the representatives of his hawkish bloc.

    Netanyahu as a Problem-Solver 

    Arik Rudnitzky, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute specialising in the Arab vote, says he understands why a quarter of Israeli Arabs who took part in the poll would still want to work with Netanyahu despite his earlier incitement. The reason for this, he says, is their desire to address burning issues "here and now".

    "The Arab sector reached the conclusion that they don't want to wait until a better coalition is formed. They remember what Netanyahu said but at the same time they want to solve their acute problems. And they want to solve them now."

    Israel's Arab community has many problems on its plate but its primary concern is criminal violence. According to reports, 2020 has been the bloodiest year so far for Israel's Arab community, claiming the lives of 113 people, up from 94 in 2019.

    If the crisis is not tackled, many in Israel fear that the situation might spiral out of control

    "Arabs in Israel consider violence and crime as their first pandemic, and they want the government to help them to overcome this hurdle," explains the expert. 

    Previously, efforts have been exerted into tackling the crisis. Arab parliamentarians have toured the country, trying to educate the masses about the need for self-restraint. Meetings have been held with their religious leaders, and the education system has been focused on preventing murder and other crimes.

    But these efforts have not yielded significant results and Rudnitzky suggests that the Arab sector is now looking up to Netanyahu as a possible problem-solver.

    In early February, the PM rolled out his plan to curb the violence that has been raging in the Arab community for years. He appointed a dedicated police chief, who was tasked with bringing crime rates down, and has also announced his government would invest more than $30 million in a project to seize illegal weapons and setting up additional police stations in Arab towns and villages.

    For many Arabs, says the expert, it doesn't matter whether the plan introduced by Netanyahu is efficient or not. For them, the most important thing is that he has a plan, and this is also the reason why he is viewed as the best person to run the country.

    However, promises of a better future are not the only reason why Netanyahu might get the support of some Israeli Arabs in the parliamentary race set for 23 March. And Rudnitzky is certain that the tackling of the coronavirus and the economic crisis it unkeyed could score the PM some extra points too.

    "Netanyahu is likely to capitalise on the fact that he was the one who brought Israel the vaccines, and once these vaccines bring the infection rates down, Israel's economy will be restored and that will inevitable improve the lives of the Arab community too," says Rudnitzky.

    What can also improve their lives is if Netanyahu sticks to his promise of promoting tolerance and equality between Jews and Arabs, and if he works towards the lowering of poverty and unemployment rates that have been traditionally high among the nation's Arabs.

    Chances for Re-Election 

    Rudnitzky believes Netanyahu is likely to keep his word and deliver when it comes to curbing crime rates and COVID-19. And if this is the case, it won't be surprising if some Arab voters eventually cast their ballots in favour of Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

    "I don't think that the turnout in this round of polls will be very high. And I don't think he will get that many seats, as most Arabs will end up voting for their parties. But I do see a scenario where he will get 50,000 votes from the Arab sector and that translates into 1.5 to 2 seats in the Knesset."

    Although it might seem like a trifle, in Israel's current political situation, where the Netanyahu and the anti-Netanyahu blocs are almost equal, every vote is able to tilt the results of the national polls.

    And this means that Netanyahu, if he manages to secure enough seats, might still get re-elected, especially if he also ends up securing the support of Raam, an Arab party that has recently split from the Joint Arab List.

    "I am not buying that projection that all Arab parties will belong to the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Netanyahu's Likud party is the largest by far and parties [like Raam] can support the PM from the outside, so any outcome is possible."

    pandemic, election, COVID-19, coronavirus, problems, Israeli Arabs, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu
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