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Israel experienced a tectonic shift in its politics last month. For the first time in its history, an Arab party is considered as a legitimate partner in forming a governing coalition. And the shift came from the most unlikely direction—Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wants his legacy to focus on peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, or having the entire population vaccinated against COVID-19. He will already be remembered as the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, and its most corrupt. But in the end, Netanyahu’s legacy is also an unlikely one. He is the leader who legitimized the Arab vote in Israel.

Last Thursday, Israelis were glued to their TVs to listen to Mansour Abbas, a politician who was anonymous to most Israelis until a few months ago. His speech was broadcast in primetime on all Israeli networks, a vision not seen since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat gave a historic speech in the Israeli Knesset in 1977, which paved the way for Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty two years later. Could this speech be similar?

Abbas, who has the ability to determine who will be able to form Israel’s next government, did not speak of his Palestinian identity, nor the Palestinian cause. He did not invoke the controversial Nation State Law, which Arab parties and the Israeli left have sought to repeal. He did not speak of Israel’s continued occupation and settlement building.

Rather, Abbas spoke of Jews and Arabs in Israel. He spoke about understanding the other, learning about each other, and looking for a future of coexistence. “What we have in common is greater than what separates us,” he said.

Abbas is the leader of Ra’am party, which represents the Islamic movement in Israel. Winning four seats in Israel’s election last week, Ra’am can break the deadlock between the two blocks in Israeli politics: those who want to continue to see Netanyahu govern the state and those who oppose him.

Abbas broke away from the other Arab parties to run on his own. He campaigned on the issue of integration into Israeli politics, and signaled his willingness to sit in a Netanyahu-led coalition. He repeated that he would join any coalition that supported the issue his constituents care about: investment in the Arab sector in Israel.

Abbas is in a position to join a governing coalition in Israel. The closest Arab parties have gotten to such a position was in 1992 under Itzhak Rabin. That government, which did not have a required majority in the Knesset without the support of the Arab parties, relied on them to survive, though they were never invited to join the coalition. It was also the government that went on the sign the historic Oslo Accords.

Until recently seen as illegitimate members of any governing coalition, Abbas and his Arab colleagues are positioned to be kingmakers in Israeli politics. Whoever he joins will have the best chance of forming the next government.

In 2015, Netanyahu warned his base that “Arabs were coming in droves to the ballot.” He completely delegitimized his political opponent, Benny Gantz, claiming he was sacrificing Israel’s security, for trying to form a coalition with Arab parties after Israel’s third round of elections in April 2019.

Last week, Netanyahu did the impossible—he validated the exact same move, in order to add Ra’am to his coalition. Jewish religious parties, who are not nationalists, have noted that they have a lot in common with Abbas’s Islamic party and share similar religious conservative views.

But Netanyahu is in a political bind. His far-right partners, especially those from the Religious Zionist party, which include Jewish supremacists, have made it clear that they will not sit in any coalition that is supported by Arab parties. Netanyahu can’t afford to lose the far-right vote if he wants to have a majority in the Knesset.

Perhaps ironically, however, the conservative right has confirmed what Israelis all know: only they can make radical changes in Israeli politics. This was true when Begin signed a peace treaty with Sadat in 1979, and it is true 40 years later asNetanyahu makes it kosher to include Arab parties in government.

His love-fest with Abbas will not last, but Netanyahu cannot turn back the tide. In Israel’s next round of elections, possibly as soon as this summer, all Arab parties will be valid partners for any governing coalition.

More importantly, Jews and Arabs in Israel are, perhaps for the first time in their history, paving a way for political cooperation at the highest levels of government. And that too, will be Netanyahu’s legacy.

Ronnie Olesker, associate professor of government at St. Lawrence University, is author of the forthcoming book, “Israel’s Securitization Dilemma: BDS and the Battle for the Legitimacy of the Jewish State.”  The views expressed are the author's own.