Joint List Knows It Now Must Live Up to Voters' Expectations

Next Knesset's third largest party prepares to wage battle for equality from opposition benches, while voters wonder whether Arab alliance will remain intact.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Joint List chief Ayman Odeh in Haifa on Election Day, March 17, 2015.
Joint List chief Ayman Odeh in Haifa on Election Day, March 17, 2015.Credit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, spent the first day after the election visiting rural Bedouin villages in the Negev, which the government doesn’t recognize as legal.

A Bedouin girl in an unrecognized village near Rahat, southern Israel.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

“The people in these villages are not land robbers but Israeli citizens. It is our duty to change the intolerable reality in which they live,” he said.

The expectations in these and other Arab communities that supported the Joint List are sky high. But the new party – an alliance of four Arab-dominated parties in Israel – Hadash, Balad, United Arab List and Ta’al – must first prove it can remain intact now that the election is over.

“I plan to start a procession from here to the Knesset,” Odeh told Haaretz. “We’ll get there on the day the new Knesset is sworn in, maybe even earlier. I believe many will join me.”

While touring the Negev villages Odeh receives two reports. One is about the demolition of homes in several villages, an almost daily occurrence. The other is about the loss of the party’s 14th Knesset seat after the soldiers’ votes were counted.

Juma’a Azbarka, no. 14 on the list, accepts his fate and says the loss had nothing to do with the party’s failure to sign a surplus vote agreement with Meretz. The extra seat would have gone to Meretz, in any case, he says.

“My activity doesn’t depend on my being a Knesset member,” he says. “We’ll continue working in the field, in any way possible for the unrecognized villages in the Negev. It’s in our soul.”

The unrecognized villages’ council had great expectations from the Joint List in the election. Like the rest of the Arab community, it had hoped the party would become part of the new coalition or at least form part of a blocking majority.

“In view of the right–wing government, the villagers are now worried about whether the party can help them stop the plans for their evacuation,” Azbarka said, referring to a government plan to forcibly relocation up to 30,000 Negev Bedouin.

The Arab public has dozens of other issues requiring urgent attention, most of which are not part of Israeli public discourse. One of those is the acute housing shortage due to the lack of land for construction in the Arab communities. Others include poverty, unemployment, discrimination in education funds and other services and rising violence in Arab cities.

Odeh plans to submit to the Knesset a 10-year plan to narrow the social gaps. It consists of 80 social and civil issues, including law enforcement, collecting unlicensed firearms, setting up industrial areas in Arab communities and creating work places, especially for women.

But the Arab public realizes that the Joint List will have to wage the battle for equality from the opposition benches, facing a narrow rightist government.

While the party failed to make good on its election slogan — toppling the rightist government — it did raise the Arab community’s voter turnout from 56 to 65 percent and gained an overwhelming majority of the Arab vote. It garnered some 440,000 votes, 110,000 more than in the previous election and with its 13 seats is the third-largest party in the Knesset.

But from now on it will be judged by its actions, not by the number of iseats. Many fear internal differences will tear the party apart.

“We intend to act in partnership,” says MK Ahmed Tibi. “The Arab public expressed its confidence in this list and we’ll find the way to overcome our differences.”

He said most party members agree on the parliamentary issues. Attorney Osama Saadi, a member of Tibi’s faction, Ta’al, promises to work in the Knesset’s Constitution Committee against racist legislation.

Preserving the party’s unity is a central goal, says Professor Mustafa Cabha, one of the sponsors of the reconciliation committee that paved the way to the joint List.

Dr. Assad Ganem, a political science lecturer in Haifa University, says the Joint List must field candidates in the local authorities and cooperate in the Knesset committees with the ultra-Orthodox parties, for example. “We can act together to advance cultural pluralism and appropriate representation in cabinet ministries,” he says.

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