Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has launched a campaign to drum up support for his right-wing Likud party among Arab voters.
During weekend visits to the Arab towns of Tira and Umm el-Fahm, he declared his intention to insert a Muslim Arab candidate into the Likud’s list for the March election and subsequently appoint that candidate as a cabinet minister.
"Just as I delivered four peace agreements and now, we're seeing Jews embracing Arabs in Dubai, why shouldn't that happen here? Why shouldn't they be part of the governing party? Why do they need to opt for radical parties that don't act on their behalf?" he said.
“Let them vote for me. Come and vote for us.”
The initiative came as a surprise as the overwhelming majority of Arabs, who make up almost 20 per cent of the Israeli population, vote for the Joint List party – a loose alliance of different Arab parties – that has always been in the opposition when Mr Netanyahu is prime minister.
On election day in 2015, Mr Netanyahu urged his supporters to get out and vote because Arab voters were “heading in droves to the polling stations”. However, over the weekend, he attempted to explain away that comment by saying he was referring to the fact that that the Arab electorate would vote for the radical Joint List.
The attempt to woo Arab votes follows an unprecedented spike in violent crime in Arab communities with reports of killings every week.
The surge in violence prompted one Joint List Knesset member, Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List faction, to engage in contacts with Mr Netanyahu. According to unconfirmed media reports, in return for government action to curb the violence, Mr Mansour would consider supporting Mr Netanyahu and possibly even vote in favour of parliamentary immunity for him to avoid his corruption trial.
Other Arab leaders greeted Mr Netanyahu’s appeal with scepticism.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Israeli Arabs know that Mr Netanyahu didn't consider them equal.
“His new attempt to cobble together votes is proof of the insult to Arab society’s intelligence. A decade of indifference to crime, violent incitement and fostering hatred won’t be wiped away by an election campaign,” he said.
Dr Thabet Abu Rass and Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, the executive co-directors of the Arab-Jewish non-profit organisation, the Abraham Initiatives, were warry of the initiative.
“In light of Netanyahu’s systematic incitement against the Arab public over the course of such a long time and the establishment of his government based on a strategy of hatred for and fear of the Arabs, one cannot help but to attribute unbridled cynicism to him,” they said.