ISLAMIST PARTY BECOMES SURPRISE KINGMAKER AFTER ISRAEL VOTE

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Israel’s election brought a surprise when a conservative Islamist party crossed the threshold to enter parliament and its leader emerged on Wednesday as a possible kingmaker.

Mansour Abbas and his Raam party — unlike other Arab political groups before it — have not ruled out joining an Israeli government.

“We are prepared to engage” with either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp or his rivals, Abbas told Israeli radio while stressing that “I’m not in anyone’s pocket”.

On Wednesday, the party was on track to win five seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset, with roughly 90 per cent of the vote counted.

Israel’s latest inconclusive election left no clear path for Netanyahu or his rivals to form a government, setting the stage for protracted coalition talks.

When Israel last voted a year ago, Raam had been part of the mainly Arab Joint List. But that alliance fractured earlier this year amid ideological divisions between Abbas and his former partners.

The conservative Abbas long had frictions with other Arab Israeli factions, including those with communist roots.

Weeks before Tuesday’s vote, Abbas indicated an openness to dealing with Netanyahu, even though the premier has demonised Arab-Israelis at various points through his political career.

But Abbas argued that Arab leaders have a responsibility to partner with whoever is in power in order to tackle a crime epidemic rocking Arab communities.