Israel Election Results: Arab Parties Take Stock After Failure in Polls

Jack Khoury
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Ayman Odeh and other Joint List members following the exit polls on Tuesday
Ayman Odeh and other Joint List lawmakers following the exit polls on Tuesday Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP
Jack Khoury

As Mansour Abbas and his United Arab List are propelled into the center of national politics as unlikely kingmakers, the rest of the Arab political parties are embroiled in a raging debate over the collapse of their Knesset representation, and its repercussions.

The Joint List was basking in a feeling of triumph when the exit poll results predicted it would get eight to nine Knesset seats and that the UAL wouldn’t make it into the Knesset. But as the hours passed and the results poured in, the atmosphere turned into woe and even a feeling of defeat.

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According to the final results, the Joint List ended up with six Knesset seats, two less than all the polls had predicted in the days preceding the election. Hadash, which had five Knesset seats in the 23rd Knesset, was reduced to three Knesset seats. It lost one of its prominent candidates, Dr. Yousef Jabareen, who was placed 8th on the roster and MK Jabar Asakla in 11th place. Ta’al went from three Knesset seats to two and lost MK Sondos Saleh, who was 10th on the roster. Balad plunged from three seats to one, after MK Heba Yazbak, 7th place, and MK Juma Azbarga, in 9th, also didn't make it into the Knesset.

These figures indicate an upheaval in the power balance between Hadash and UAL, and represent the first time that Hadash has lost its majority in Knesset representation among the Arab parties.

Currently, the UAL is the largest Arab party in the Knesset with four seats, which can influence the future possibility of a joint run in and the composition of Arab institutions such as the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee.It could also impact the local elections, especially in the large cities where the vote does not depend on clans and families.

Hadash sources compare the results to the party’s defeat in Nazareth in 2013, when it lost the mayorship to Ali Salam after decades of full municipal control. Hadash activists are already talking about the need to draw conclusions, on a personal level as well. Party chairman MK Ayman Odeh, MK Aida Touma-Sliman and party secretary general Mansour Dahamsha, who was in charge of the campaign, are among the names in the firing line.

Dahamsha issued a statement on Thursday in which he thanked party members and described the campaign as difficult. He said that meetings will be held soon to make decisions. “We’ll draw the conclusions and bear responsibility,” he said. “We’ll act to convene the institutions and hear all the opinions and move to strengthen the branches so that we can move forward.”

In Balad, activists also called on senior party figures to take stock after it was left with just one lawmaker, its leader MK Sami Abu Shehadeh, who told Haaretz that Balad will discuss the results on the national level and in its local branches. “We will study all the results and the campaign and make the required decisions, even if it leads to personal conclusions,” he said.

Sources from Joint List didn’t hide their disappointment in what they slammed as a "clumsy campaign" which allowed UAL to move the public debate into the terrain of religion and LGBTQ rights. This fostered deep hostility toward Hadash and contributed to a considerable reduction in voter turnout, even in Wadi Ara and Umm al-Fahm area, according to one activist.

A veteran Balad activist who took part in several election campaigns attributed the humbling results to losing touch with the grassroots for a long period. “It seems that since the last election all the branches and activists went on unpaid leave and now suddenly they wanted everyone back at work at the last moment. It didn’t work. It was difficult to work against an extremely aggressive campaign conducted by UAL, including the religious issue in a society that is conservative in nature. It’s true we didn’t say 10 or 12 Knesset seats but eight seemed very reasonable. So ending up with six says a lot,” he said.

Among the Joint List, it is widely believed that the party haemorrhaged Jewish votes to Meretz, following their survival campaign. They estimate that 60 percent of the Jewish voters who opted for the Joint List in the last election voted for Meretz this time around.

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