Islamists, Marxists, women and Jews: The Arab parties have done the seemingly impossible and are likely announce a united election slate in the coming days.
By Yael Marom and Nadav Frankovich
Israel’s Arab parties are expected to announce the formation of a combined election slate in the lead-up to the upcoming elections. The slate, which will group Ra’am, Balad, Hadash and Ta’al into one party (without formally merging), has been named “The United List,” and is set to include secular, religious, female and Jewish politicians.
While the different Arab parties have historically run separately, a law spearheaded last year by Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid raised the election threshold to 3.25 percent (four seats), and has effectively forced the parties to consider joining forces in order to remain relevant. The new threshold has sparked a fierce debate about the possibility of giving an equal voice to all sectors of the Arab population, as well as the inclusion of Hadash’s Jewish members.
According to +972 Magazine’s sister site, Local Call, which spoke to several sources, the list will likely headed by Hadash’s Ayman Odeh, who was elected party chairman last week, followed by Masud Ghnaim of the Islamist Ra’am and Balad’s Jamal Zahalka in third place. Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) will take the fourth place, followed by Aida Touma-Sliman from Hadash.
Abdel Hakim Haj Yahia (Ra’am) will take the sixth place, and Hanin Zoabi (Balad) will be placed number seven. Eighth place will go to Hadash’s Dov Khenin, the only Jewish member of the slate who is likely to be elected, followed by Ra’am’s Taleb Abu Arar.
The biggest controversy is between Balad and Hadash over spots 10 and 11 (between Balad’s Basel Ghattas and Yousef Jabareen from Hadash), and places 13-14 (Jum’a Azbarga from Balad or Abdullah Abu-Ma’arouf from Hadash). Furthermore, spots 12 and 15 have yet to be decided between representatives of Ra’am and Ta’al.
Should the parties join forces, the United List faces will likely face several challenges, including whether to remain together after the elections, as well as working together on the campaign and the ability to appeal to different groups within Israel’s Arab population. Despite the difficulties, it seems that Arab citizens are united in their desire to see a united list. According to a recent +972 poll, nearly 70 percent of Arabs citizens intend to vote if the three existing Arab parties run on a joint list, compared to 56 percent who voted in the 2013 elections, a new +972 poll found.
The parties began negotiations over the past dew days, after both Balad and Hadash elected their individual slates. The violent events in the Bedouin city Rahat, where two residents were killed by police, and the protests that came in their wake had an effect on the negotiations.
Balad MK Bassel Ghattes, who heads his faction’s negotiating team, told Local Call: “We have taken the road that leads to a united list, and I believe things will be finalized in the coming days.” Ghattes also gave an update on the state of negotiations:
On Tuesday night we held a crucial meeting with all the parties, along with the agreement committee, which is made up of different public figures from all walks of life who decided to assist and take part in the negotiation process. Each party, without exception, agreed to give the committee the right to decide on contested issues.”
Regarding the conflicts between the different parties, Gattes explained:
The biggest conflict is the question of dividing the 12th and 15th seats designated for Ra’am-Ta’al (which ran as a joint list in the previous several elections) between the two factions. The committee will decide on the issue, but it is assumed that Tibi’s Ta’al party will get the 12th seat.
Two of the smaller conflicts stem from Hadash’s demand to reorganize the order of seats 10 through 14 with Balad. We in Balad did not think we needed to give up on these seats, but we will accept whatever the committee decides. In any case, it will not prevent a united list, which at this point is nearly a done deal.
In an interview with the Arabs48 website, committee head Muhammad Taha Ali said that aside from several minor issues, the factions are in agreement regarding all the important issues, emphasizing that “no party has any interest in torpedoing the talks. Everyone is giving their all so that we can declare a united list; it is at the top of every party’s list of priorities, and each one has given its consent to and trusts the committee to bring an end to the negotiations and declare a list.”
Nadav Franckovich is a translator and Arabic teacher.