Islamist Party Council Postpones Decision on Whether to Back Early Israel Elections

After hours of deliberation, the council failed to reach a decision. Meanwhile, the Joint List officially states it would vote in favor of dissolving the Israeli parliament on Wednesday

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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UAL's Mansour Abbas and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, last year.
UAL's Mansour Abbas and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, last year.Credit: Noam Moshkovitz/Knesset Spokesperson
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The United Arab List’s Shura Council, the party's umbrella body, failed to make a decision on Tuesday regarding coalition policies and Wednesday's vote to dissolve the Israeli Parliment, instead agreeing to postpone the decision until "the last minute," sources said.

After hours of deliberation, party chairman Mansour Abbas told reporters that "all the members of the Shura Council have spoken and expressed their opinion, and there will be a summary, and all council members will vote on this summary."

Abbas added that the purpose of the meeting was not to "demonstrate certain abilities and hegemony, but to exercise our right to make achievements in favor of Arab society and to serve all the citizens of the country as we believe."

Sources told Haaretz that the council would wait until developments on Wednesday morning to make a decision.

"We are a democratic party and will accept our decisions in accordance with the principles of democracy and democratic procedure," Abbas said."

Abbas arriving at the meeting of the Shura council at Kafr Qassem on Tuesday.Credit: Amir Levy

The council, which met in Kafr Qasem, has been placing growing pressure on the party to leave the coalition and vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset – which would send Israel to another election. However, there is opposition within the party – particularly from Chairman Mansour Abbas and faction leader Walid Taha – for the time being.

Speaking to Radio Ashams on Tuesday, Taha said that holding a general election now does not serve the interests of the Arab public and certainly would not increase its representation in the Knesset.

Taha said that one option was for the party to vote against dissolving the Knesset on Wednesday, but refrain from participating in other Knesset deliberations. In effect, the UAL would suspend its declared freeze on coalition membership for one day. By preventing the bill to dissolve the Knesset from advancing either to the Knesset plenum or committees, the UAL could buy time and continue negotiations with coalition leaders over its demands – most of which relate to civic issues.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh at a press conference in February.Credit: Noam Rivkin Panton

Party sources said that it would not serve the party to enter an election campaign while voters are focused on tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Party officials pointed to an opinion poll broadcast Monday by Channel 13 news. The poll predicted that if an election were held now, the UAL would not garner enough votes to cross the electoral threshold and enter the Knesset. While officials noted that past polls underestimated the party's strength, partially because pollsters have trouble reaching the party's key voter base in the Negev, anger and frustration among party activists remains strong, including in the south.

At the same time, the Joint List – an alliance of three parties that is the UAL’s rival for Arab votes – is also feeling strained ahead of the Wednesday vote.

Joint List leaders sent messages to party activists and others on Monday explaining that they didn’t back two no-confidence motions submitted by Likud on Monday because supporting them would be tantamount to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nevertheless, an official statement by the Joint List said they would vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset and moving to elections on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the representative of the Balad faction within the party, Sami Abu Shehadeh, cancelled a party meeting on Tuesday after learning that certain members of the Joint List were holding talks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Sources close to Abu Shehadeh said that though the talks were informal, they should have been coordinated with him.

A senior Balad official told Haaretz that Abu Shehadeh sought to send a message to his partners in the alliance, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh and Ta'al Chief Ahmad Tibi, not to act without consulting him.

Tibi and Odeh vehemently denied that the Joint List failed to back the no-confidence motions on Monday due to any agreements with the coalition. They said that informal discussion in the Knesset corridors were business as usual, and did not imply that any understandings had been reached with the coalition. They added that their decision regarding Wednesday's vote to dissolve the Knesset is final.

In order to approve the bill to dissolve the Knesset, a simple majority is required, in contrast to the absolute majority of 61 Knesset members.

If the proposal, put forward by Likud's Shlomo Karhi, passes a preliminary reading tomorrow, it will not have an immediate effect on the Knesset, because the coalition has the option of not promoting the proposal in the Knesset committees and in the plenum.

However, it will be a severe moral blow to the coalition, which will find it difficult to publicly justify its continued existence. If the coalition manages to prevent the approval of the proposal tomorrow, the opposition will be unable to raise the proposal again within the next six months.

Likud issued a statement as the Shura Council convened, claiming that the government relies on "terror supporters" and therefore can't "fight terrorism."

Abbas responded to Likud's accusations, saying "UAL exercises its democratic right. Netanyahu was also waiting for the decisions of the Shura Council when he negotiated with us to form a government and met with me four times at his residence on Balfour Street."

"UAL and its institutions, including the Shura Council, a legitimate and legitimate democratic body in Israel, are acting responsibly. Despite your attempts at incitement and delegitimization, UAL fulfills its civic duty and commitment to Arab society and its identity," Abbas concluded.

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