Arab-Led Parties Move to Reunify Joint List Ahead of New Ele...

Arab-Led Parties Move to Reunify Joint List Ahead of New Elections

June 25, 2019

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On the night of May 29-30, after PM Netanyahu failed to reach an agreement with at least 61 MKs to ensure a viable government, all ten MKs from the Arab-led parties (Hadash-Ta'al and Ra'am-Balad) voted with the coalition parties in favor of new elections.[1] While receiving some backlash for voting with the coalition rather than the opposition, this unprecedented turn of events is largely seen as a second chance for Arab political leadership.

The historically low Arab voter turnout in the last elections, less than 50%, is attributed in part to disappointment with the split of the Joint List (the union of Arab-led parties) in the previous elections cycle. Since the call for new elections, Arab party leaders have been on a path towards reunification. The faster and less contentious the process of reuniting, say civil society leaders and political activists, the more likely it is to help restore Arab public interest in the political process.

Voting in favor of new elections

Arab politicians have been under some criticism from their constituencies for voting with the coalition and against the opposition (Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz voted against dissolving the Knesset). Leading Arab politicians, including MKs Ayman Odeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Kasif (Hadash) and Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al), justified their decision by saying that, beyond a second chance to increase Arab voter turnout and therefore Arab influence in the next Knesset, voting for new elections served additional purposes. These include (i) postponing the next government which Arab MKs say would have been the worst in Israeli history for Arab society due to its extreme right-wing members; (ii) putting controversial legislation on hold (i.e. annexing parts of the West Bank, bills granting immunity from prosecution to PM Netanyahu, and bills weakening the legal system); and (iii) postponing or weakening the likelihood of the American “Deal of the Century,” which they feared would end the dream of Palestinian statehood. Recent reports that Arab MKs voted for new elections as part of a deal with PM Netanyahu have been labeled political fodder and vehemently denied.

Reunification of the Joint List

After the Knesset dissolved and new elections were called, social media and Arabic language media in Israel were filled with demands to re-create the Joint List. The four Arab-led parties immediately began informal talks about reuniting, due to significant pressure from constituents, as well as recognition that numerous mistakes made since the Joint List was created in 2015 and the ugly breakup of the Joint List in early 2019 were major causes of the extremely low turnout of Arab voters in the April elections.

Leaders of all the Arab-led parties voiced their support of such reunification. MK Ayman Odeh, Chair of Hadash, posted a video on Facebook (Arabic) stating "everywhere I went over the last few days, people stopped me and asked to rebuild the Joint List." MK Mansour Abbas, Chair of Ra’am, wrote on the Arabic-language news portal Bokra that talks to re-form the Joint List were imperative to developing “a collective and comprehensive program of the most important issues that concern the Arab community and the interest of our people.” (Arabic)  MK Ahmed Tibi (Chair of Ta'al), who withdrew from the Joint List towards the previous elections, also said in an interview to Israeli Channel 11 (Hebrew) that he supports its re-establishment.

On June 20, all four parties issued a joint statement that they have agreed to reestablish the Joint List, adding: “Most of the Arab citizens want a Joint List. As such, we have put in the effort to come together as one party instead of splitting into two (lists).”

In parallel, intense discussions are taking place as to the order of candidates within the new Joint List, and share of seats per party -- a root cause behind its dissolution earlier this year. Currently, it appears that all four parties agree to divide the list according to recent election results, in which Hadash-Ta’al received six seats, while Ra’am-Balad received four.

Disagreements remain regarding which candidates will be placed beyond the first 10 slots. According to Jack Khoury in Haaretz, “each party is seeking to increase its representation on the slate by one seat,” while additional considerations include ensuring representation to Negev Bedouins, more women and possibly also independent activists or academics who could act as a draw to the Arab public.

Fresh Faces

The idea of bringing in new leaders who are not necessarily identified with traditional party politics has gained momentum in Arab society. Political activist Samah Salaime writes that “external experts [on issues such as urban planning, Bedouin development, fighting violence] tasked with neutralizing the partisan poison that has paralyzed the work of the Joint List” would strengthen the party. (Hebrew) However, this pressure has met with severe resistance from the existing four parties and their activists.

Parallel attempts are therefore continuing to form one or more new Arab lists, one of them reportedly including well-known academic Prof. As’ad Ghanem (Hebrew), although some activists claim this would splinter the Arab vote (three new Arab-led parties registered before the previous elections received together over 4,000 votes).

Party lists must be presented to the Central Elections Committee by August 2 to be eligible to run in the elections.

 


[1] According to Israeli law, in case the deadline for announcing a coalition government has passed (maximum 42 days after national elections are held) but no coalition has been established, the President should give this mandate to a different MK, unless new elections are called.

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