Efforts for United Arab Knesset List Gain Momentum, but Agreement Remains Elusive

Recent talks among factions aim to bridge ideological disagreements.

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Attempts to put together a united Arab list to run for the next Knesset are gaining momentum, though those involved say an agreement is still a ways off.

The past few days have seen talks among the factions, including between Balad and Hadash, whose leaders had been avoiding each other.

Over the weekend members of Hadash and the United Arab List, particularly representatives of the Islamic Movement’s southern wing, tried to bridge some of the ideological disagreements between them.

“If you define conversations in a good atmosphere as progress, then yes, there was a good atmosphere,” a negotiator for one of the Arab parties said.

Party members say that in almost every poll in recent years, respondents say they want to see a united Arab list. The concern is that failure to form such a list will lead disgruntled Arab voters to boycott the elections. At the same time, the Arab MKs are stressing that each party will preserve its own agenda after the elections.

Some Arabs are calling for a different approach: a list that includes Jewish candidates and appeals to the general Israeli public, not just to the Arab population.

This argument is being made primarily by the Communist party, the main faction of Hadash, which has emphasized that it isn’t an Arab party but a Jewish-Arab party promoting coexistence.

“We are seeing a situation where there is an effort to sort out names and seats, rather than to come up with a new strategy, bring new blood into the system, and appeal to the general Israeli public,” said a Hadash activist.

One of the first moves the parties are trying to promote is an agreement that the head of a joint list be chosen by consensus among all the component factions. Hadash hopes to persuade its chairman, Mohammed Barakeh, not to retire and to head the joint list.

Observers say things will be clearer by mid-January, after the parties hold their internal elections.

Hadash will have to decide who will head the party if Barakeh leaves, while Balad will hold primaries focusing primarily on the head of the list, with party Chairman Jamal Zahalka needing the support of at least 60 percent of the party delegates.

The UAL-Ta’al list will also see changes, with MK Ibrahim Sarsur ending his term as chairman, while MK Ahmed Tibi is demanding at least two realistic spots on whatever joint list emerges.