Israeli Arab Parties Irking Their Voters by Slowing Up Formation of Latest Joint Ticket

As the parties bicker over slots on a unified slate, 'the Arab community feels that the rhetoric about unity, national challenges and priorities are empty words,' a mediator says

Ayman Odeh (left) and Ahmed Tibi (right) in Jerusalem, September 2018.
Emil Salman

The Arab parties are being criticized by their voters for not fulfilling their pledge of two weeks ago to quickly form a joint slate and perhaps beat their 2015 success in the September 17 election.

The four parties – Hadash, Ta’al, United Arab List and Balad – have earned disapproval due to disputes both among the parties and with the reconciliation committee trying to help them unify.

The dispute is over how to divide spots 11 through 14 on the joint ticket, the same problem that scotched the four-party framework in the election this past April.

Jurist Raif Zreik, who is holding talks with the parties, has warned in recent days about a massive hemorrhaging of the Arab community’s confidence in the parties.

A poster in Nazareth mocks Netanyahu's 2015 Election Day video warning that 'Arabs are going to the polls in droves' taken with buses, April 2019.
Gil Eliahu

“The problem is beyond the low percentage of voter participation,” he said. “The Arab community feels that the rhetoric about unity, national challenges and priorities are empty words.”

After the Knesset voted in late May to dissolve itself, the Arab parties set a June 30 deadline to form a new joint slate.

A few days before that date, officials from the four parties signed a pledge giving the reconciliation committee, which is made up of intellectuals, social activists and mayors of Arab towns, the power to decide on the formula by which the Knesset seats would be divided among the four – all the way down to 16th place on the roster.

There was no disagreement over the first 10 places – four would go to Hadash and two to each of the other three parties. Disagreement focused on places 11 through 13. On June 30, the reconciliation committee presented its decision; 11th place would go to United Arab List, 12th to Hadash, 13th to Balad and 14th to Ta’al.

This formula was accepted by United Arab List and Hadash, but Balad disputed it; its No. 3 on the joint roster, Mazen Gnaim, would have had to move down to No. 13, greatly decreasing his chances of making it into the Knesset. Gnaim even threatened to leave the party and the race, and had Balad’s backing.

Sources in Balad said that in talks with the reconciliation committee before it received the power to determine the list’s makeup, Balad was promised the 12th slot.

Ta’al also objected to the arrangement, noting that it wanted a woman to be closer to the top of the ticket, 11th or 12th.

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The reconciliation committee said no understandings had been agreed on and the distribution of slots was made after thorough discussions, taking into consideration the representation of all areas and groups, as well as the results of the last Knesset election.

The spokesman for the reconciliation committee, Prof. Mustafa Kabha, said talks are continuing to reach a compromise with each party separately.

“We are working out of a great sense of responsibility, and I hope the parties will as well, because the situation isn’t good, and any delay will only erode the confidence of the Arab community,” he said.

As a result of the crisis, Balad said it was cutting off communication with the reconciliation committee and would hold talks with the other parties. Some Balad members are calling for the party to run on a separate ticket and recruit new people in the party, while others call this step political suicide.

Meanwhile, in recent days Ta’al has released what it calls a new initiative to end the crisis: It would give up representation in slots 11 through 16, which would be occupied by nonpartisan experts, three of them women. But the other parties objected, claiming that Ta’al was ensuring two slots for itself in the first 10 and was trying to hand out potential Knesset seats at the expense of the other parties.

Hadash and the United Arab List said in a statement they considered a roster made up of the four parties the best recipe.