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Netanyahu Inflames Crisis Within Joint List Alliance of Arab Parties

Parties meet amid internal rift and public criticism as prime minister seen as attempting to drive a wedge between them, while hoping an election is not in the offing

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The four parties composing the Arab Joint List are presently examining various scenarios in light of the internal rift in the alliance and the criticism from the Arab public, in an attempt to minimize damage.

The Joint List hopes that the political arena is not rushing to an election in a few months. “We’re at a nadir in terms of our public image, and an election at this time would definitely harm our representation, and nobody wants that,” said a serving lawmaker in reference to the crisis that has been going on for several months. It reached a new level this week due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in a meeting of the Special Committee for Eradicating Crime in the Arab Sector, chaired by the Joint List’s Mansour Abbas.

Netanyahu’s participation along with the public security minister and the Knesset speaker was presented as Likud’s attempt to become closer to Abbas and drive a wedge in the Joint List, while Abbas himself rejected the criticism and claimed he is conducting a different policy and discourse for the sake of achievements for the Arab public.

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Senior Joint List members harshly criticized Abbas in conversations with Haaretz. “There’s no question that he is causing tremendous damage with this conduct. Netanyahu should be given no excuse to disband the list or give empty promises in exchange for lifelines of one kind or another, claiming that they are achievements. The consequences of his conduct are destructive and it’s a very dangerous message for the public,” said one lawmaker. He said that despite the anger and the frustration, the Joint List parties don’t have many options and a limited ability to maneuver.

On this issue, the Joint List mentioned the qualifying electoral threshold (the percentage of the national vote a party must earn in order to enter the Knesset at all) and said that none of the four parties, including Hadash, can permit itself to take the risk of running alone when any other step involving cooperation with new factions seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Haaretz has learned that there have been contacts and full coordination between Hadash and Balad in recent weeks, who are preparing the ground for a possible merger, and that talks are also being held with Ta’al. The United Arab List (Ra’am), on the other hand, is checking out the field and examining the option of merging with Ta’al, which would mean a return to the election scenario of April 2019, when the member parties ran on two lists, Hadash with Ta’al and Ra’am with Balad. This time, Ta’al and Balad would exchange places. Even though this option is being examined, it is not garnering much support due to the fear of its consequences, and Ta’al, headed by lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, is not sending positive messages in that direction, but prefers to remain in the foursome.

According to an internal analysis in the Joint List, any other option of disbanding and running on two lists means a drastic decline in the voting percentage in Arab society to about 45 percent, which would harm the representation of the four parties as well as providing a significant entrée to the Zionist parties. The Joint List admits that the electoral threshold is still seen as a main and perhaps final dam for preventing the disbanding of the list. “Since our recommendation of [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and his flight to Netanyahu, when we’re only being battered, going to an election and dividing would be suicide, as any political novice understands,” a senior Balad member said.

Joint List lawmakers Ayman Odeh (center) and Aida Touma-Sliman (right) at a protest, May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Abbas, despite the criticism against him, explained to Haaretz that he and his three Ra’am colleagues will vote against any proposal to lower the electoral threshold when it is placed on the Knesset agenda. “We’ll vote out of an interest in preserving the Joint List,” he said. Abbas once again rejected the criticism and claimed that the attempt to make false accusations against him, such as cooperation of one kind or another, or agreements on a vote that would serve Netanyahu, are defamatory.

“It’s true that I don’t give clear answers on various issues such as the French law [which would prevent the prime minister from being indicted] or other things, but that doesn’t mean that I agree to everything in advance. I want to be part of the political game and don’t have to be in anyone’s pocket. My demands of the government focused on two issues: 922 [a five-year economic development plan for the Arab Sector], and we achieved that, and the plan to fight violence and crime, and that’s what I’m aiming for,” he said.

A series of meetings is planned in the coming days between all the Joint List components, including one-on-one discussions, in an attempt to minimize the damage. “We all hope that all the parties will come to their senses and stop with the mutual attacks, and return to common sense, in order to maintain the unity of the list that was born out of a desire to provide proper representation for the Arab public,” wrote Prof. Mustafa Kabha of Tel Aviv’s Open University on Tuesday. Kabha, along with the heads of local councils, public figures and social activists, is working in the context of a reconciliation committee established in 2015, which was a main partner in assembling the Joint List.

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