Among Israeli Arab Parties, Much-needed Unity Is Proving Elusive

Even if the parties forge a joint slate, the togetherness might not last long after the March 17 election.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Hadash leader Mohammed Barakeh.
Hadash leader Mohammed Barakeh.Credit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

“That’s not how you build a wall.” This sentence was immortalized in a famous soccer game between Israel and Australia in March 1989.

It’s how legendary play-by-play man Yoram Arbel called the Australian team’s goal after a free kick pierced the Israeli defenders’ wall. Ever since, the Israeli national team hasn’t had much success in Europe or further afield.

Even worse, other walls have been built – around the West Bank, around the Gaza Strip and along the Egyptian border, all in the name of national security. In recent years the political arena has been characterized by racist legislation designed to put walls up around a fifth of the population. The proposed “nation-state law” is the highest wall of them all; the bill is on the shelf until after the March 17 election.

This is where the Arab Israeli community finds itself — on the front line against the establishment, and many political figures who consider them a fifth column at worst and a security risk to be dealt with at best. Thus the demands by many Arab Israelis are clear, but it will be hard to increase their representation in the Knesset due to the higher electoral threshold.

At every opportunity representatives of the Arab community say that “this time we’re ready, and that’s the feeling on the street.” This time it seems responsibility and maturity will win out over the ideological and religious obstacles holding back the building of a strong wall against the wave of racism flooding the country.

MKs from the Arab parties meet in early December 2014 to discuss forming a joint bloc.Credit: No credit

Declarations aside, two weeks before the deadline to submit party slates for the election, the situation seems more complex than previously thought.

The Islamic Movement has split with United Arab List-Ta’al, led by Ahmed Tibi. The Jewish-Arab Hadash party is waiting to see if party leader Mohammed Barakeh will retire and for the results of its primary. The word is that both Balad and Hadash aren’t too thrilled about a joint Arab ticket.

“Everyone is taking about unity, but the parties aren’t ready for it,” said a senior Hadash official this week.

Still, the fear of being blamed for failure is forcing everyone to sit down and talk. This week the first meeting for representatives from each party was held, and each side demanded a hefty representation in the first 11 spots on the ticket. After all, the partnership is not considered likely to survive the election. The Islamic Movement has demanded four slots, Balad three and Hadash four.

Tibi was offered a spot in the top five, though fearful of being pushed into a corner, he flexed his muscles at an event in Nazareth and demanded a second spot for another candidate of his choosing. The event, planned as a forum for dialogue on unity outside politics as well, quickly turned into a campaign event.

The disagreements between the parties are very grave, and the talks designed to craft a joint political vision don’t look likely to bear fruit. By the weekend, the Hadash and Balad primaries will be over and the situation might be slightly clearer. Not only that, but the petition at the Supreme Court against raising the electoral threshold was rejected on Wednesday.

In any case, even if the unity overtures succeed, it’s hard to predict how much faith will be placed in the joint Arab slate and how long it will survive. Either way, that’s now how you build a wall. It’s certainly not how you build a party ticket.

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