Analysis

Israel's Do-over Election Gives Arab Parties an Opportunity – One They're Refusing to Seize

The parties' failure to resurrect the Joint List points to a deep lack of trust from within – and in facing the Arab public

Lawmakers from Hadash and Ta'al in April 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Immediately after the vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold a new election in September, the heads of the four Arab parties that once made up the Joint List said they would begin discussions to reunite – and that it would only a take a few days to work things out.

The atmosphere was positive and festive, and questions about possible disagreements over the composition of the joint slate were dismissed with scorn, as if it were a trivial matter to reunite the four parties: Hadash and Ta’al, which ran together in the previous election; and the United Arab List and Balad, which also ran together.

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The target date for the agreement was set for June 30. Over two weeks have passed since this date and the situation is dismal: There is no Joint List, no trust between the parties – and the trust between the parties and their voters has been eroded so much that even the veteran party activists have a hard time remembering the last time things were so bad.

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The Arab public, which in general does not identify with specific political parties but is pushing for unity, has been forced for now to watch the wheeler-dealers exchanging accusations on social media.

The atmosphere is poisonous, a senior official in one of the parties says. There is only one reason behind all of this: A lack of agreement over who will get the 11th through 14th places on the Knesset slate – even though behind closed doors, party leaders admit that the prospect of obtaining 12 or 13 Knesset seats is only slipping farther out of reach every day.

Anyone who needed more evidence of the depth of the crisis got it over past two days: On Monday evening, Hadash’s Al-Ittihad news website published a dramatic announcement of a press conference in which the reconstitution of the Joint List would be announced.

But immediately after the announcement, Balad and Ta’al said their representatives would not attend because of differences of opinion. The members of the reconciliation committee, which is attempting to put together the joint slate, nonetheless hoped there would be progress and that at least Ta’al would join with Hadash and the United Arab List – which would increase the pressure on Balad to join, too.

But the two parties were not impressed, and the press conference was whittled down in the end to nothing but a banal announcement in English. For now, it is said that the festive announcement has just been postponed until Thursday, but the body language of those present made it clear that no one was obligated to abide by that deadline.

The official finish line for unification is the beginning of August, when the final party slate must be submitted to the Central Elections Committee. But even if an agreement between the parties is reached before then, it is unlikely they will be able to clear the air and bring out the voters in two months.

The dissolving of the Knesset and the calling of new elections gave the Arab parties an opportunity to recover from the blow they suffered in the April 9 election – when they dropped from 13 to 10 Knesset seats. As of now, it seems they are stubbornly insisting not to take advantage of this opportunity – and the result could well be another electoral blow on September 17.