Now that the slates have been finalized, the four Arab parties that made up the Joint List in the last Knesset will have to address their voters' eroding trust. The situation worsened over the past week during the fraught negotiations between the four parties as they strove to recreate a united slate for the April 9 election.
The talks continued Thursday night right until the deadline for filing party tickets. The four parties decided to run as two separate lists: Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al with Ayman Odeh’s Arab-Jewish Hadash, and Balad with the United Arab List. But the damage – and the deep rupture between the parties and the Arab community – was done.
Now the four parties will have to answer the hard questions raised during the week to restore the voters' trust and convince the indifferent to come out on Election Day. The party leaders and candidates have been speaking in the loftiest terms about national responsibility, the need to stop Israel's far right and the need to end the Netanyahu government, which pushed through the nation-state law and intends to bring Kahanists into the Knesset.
These would seem to be messages with a receptive audience. But through Thursday evening potential voters heard about ego battles and unnecessary wars over the division of Knesset seats and jobs; each party slung mud at the others. It was a scene that can only be described as humiliating and that will heighten the disgust of many Arab voters, many of whom may now stay home.
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The real fight
All four parties say the main dispute focused on who would be awarded spots 11 to 14 on a joint slate. Hadash and United Arab List insisted that each of the two would have four spots in the first 12 – places considered likely to enter the Knesset based on the polls. Balad and Ta’al, meanwhile, said the other two parties should be satisfied with three seats. In the end, the dispute was almost entirely focused on the chances of each party’s most marginal candidates.
This makes clear the extent to which the parties understand the disappointment of their voters, a disappointment that will translate into a low voter turnout and a leakage of votes to the Zionist parties. Even by their own estimates, the parties believed that a joint slate was unlikely to win 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the number won the last time around. This is a clear sign of a lack of confidence.
The voter turnout among Arabs was 63 percent in the 2015 election, almost 9 percent higher than in the 2013 vote. The creation of the Joint List significantly increased the number of Arab voters, also because of the warm relations among the parties. This time around, it's unlikely we'll see such a high turnout.
Party activists will go from door to door in the next few weeks trying to recruit voters. Most Arab mayors will join in the effort. But the voters who made the difference in previous campaigns, the nonideological, educated middle class, won't hurry.
These voters will demand answers and clarifications; for example, some activists will protest the way the parties have hooked up. It's no secret that many people in Hadash are angry over the agreement with Tibi, and there are people in both Balad and the Islamic Movement, whose southern branch is a strong component of United Arab List, who don't see the alliance as a natural choice.
True, a month and a half remains until Election Day. The question is whether the Arab parties will use this time to draw the necessary conclusions and launch a campaign that minimizes the damage caused by the last week. Or will they continue with the ego battles and internecine fighting that will seriously damage their chances at the polls?