Israel's Arab MKs Mull Party Merger Ahead of Elections

With a higher electoral threshold in place in the Knesset, a few Arab parties may join forces but Arab-Jewish Hadash is balking.

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Ahmed Tibi
Ahmed TibiCredit: Michal Fattal

The members of the Balad, United Arab List-Ta’al and Hadash party factions met Tuesday in the Knesset to discuss merging their lists for the probable early elections. Recently the electoral threshold was raised and each party is at risk of falling short if it runs on its own.

Now that a political party must garner at least 3.25 percent of valid votes in a general election to secure seats in the Knesset, the Arab parties are weighing whether to run together on a joint list, or on two parallel lists. The primary strategy being considered is to have Hadash and Ta’al run together, while Balad and the UAL would unite in a second joint list.

The Balad party has been trying since September to get the other three factions to cooperate and run together. UAL-Ta’al had been in favor of joining forces, but Hadash was opposed.

For their part, Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka and faction colleagues Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas argue that the move to raise the electoral threshold was an attempt by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu to exclude Arabs from the Knesset entirely.

The Balad MKs believe running a joint list would increase the number of MKs the three parties now have, and would counter efforts by right-wing Jewish parties to keep them out of parliament.

At present, in the 19th Knesset, Hadash has four MKs, UAL-Ta’al has four, and Balad has three.

“Based on the polls and the feeling we get from the street, we can raise our representation from 11 mandates today to 14 or 15,” the Balad MKs say. “As far as we’re concerned, 14 mandates is a realistic goal.”

Zahalka has agreed that he needn’t necessarily head a joint list, and added that the parties can split up again after the election if they see they cannot work together.

UAL leader MK Ahmed Tibi has also said that a joint list would increase the number of Arab MKs in the next Knesset.

Hadash, however, remains opposed to the idea of such a list. Sources in the party told Haaretz that, “Hadash is not an Arab party and there is no reason for it to unite with the two Arab parties. Hadash is a Jewish-Arab party that demonstrates that coexistence is still possible, especially in light of the events of this past summer.”

Hadash also believes that if a merger takes place, leaving the Arab population with only one option to vote for, the number of Arab voters is liable to drop, not increase, as Balad believes.

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