Joint List Welcomes Election, Center-left Alliance Fears Failure as Parties Prepare for Third Round

As the March 2 election looms, parties are gearing up for their third election campaigns within a year

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Joint List lawmakers Ahmad Tibi (right) and Ayman Odeh (left), at President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem September 22, 2019.
Joint List lawmakers Ahmad Tibi (right) and Ayman Odeh (left), at President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem September 22, 2019. Credit: Menachen Kahana/ REUTERS

Israel's Knesset voted to dissolve itself this week, sending Israelis to the ballot boxes for the third time in one year. The different political parties are preparing accordingly, trying to sharpen their strategies and make the necessary changes in order to survive the brief campaign and make gains on March 2.

Ayelet Shaked's political future: With or without Bennett?

Hayamin Hehadash, the right-wing party established by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked ahead of Israel's first election this year in April, is planning on running indepedently of the right-wing Yamina slate it ran with in the September election. 

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked at a campaign rally, Be'er Sheva, March 31, 2019.
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked at a campaign rally, Be'er Sheva, March 31, 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The party, which did not pass the electoral threshold in the April election, stands to succeed in this third round. Now the key question is whether the party will be co-led by Bennett and Shaked. The former justice minister did not benefit from the previous elections: While Bennett was recently appointed defense minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his interim government, Shaked was left without any official position. Her future in the party isn't clear, and she has been discussing it with Bennett in recent days.

Other members of their party believe that Bennett should be number one on the slate, and that Shaked should be number two. Meanwhile, Habayit Heyehudi and National Union are pressuring Shaked to stand at the helm of a unified, right-wing ticket. Shaked did not provide an official response to this report on the latest developments in her party.

Hope for the Joint List

The Joint List, the Arab alliance of four parties, emerged as the third-largest party after the September election. It remains optimistic ahead of the March 2 ballot, and its members hope to gain somewhere between 15 to 16 seats in the Knesset – three more than they had garnered in the previous election. Part of their strategy to achieve this increase in votes is to turn directly to potential Jewish voters. 

"Not only is the Joint List not scared of an election, it is actually interested in one, because we see the data and we have a feeling that the voter turnout among Arab voters will increase and the Joint List will get more Knesset seats," Ahmad Tibi, the chair of the Ta'al faction, told Haaretz.

Tibi also warned against an incitement campaign being led against the Arab public and its Knesset representatives. "There is a chance that again we will be under Netanyahu's incitement attack, but we will do everything to get him replaced. It's time," he added. 

The party is expected to start preparing its campaign in the coming days, and plans on presenting a united front. A senior activist says that the Joint List will try to avoid the internal struggles that have characterized the two previous election rounds, and present its final slate in the coming weeks.

Center-left parties fear they will crash and burn

The Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher have already lowered their bar for the third election. The two Zionist, center-left parties say the struggle is not in doubling their power, but rather in overcoming the electoral threshold which threatens to leave them out of the next Knesset.

The two parties ended the last election in disappointment. The Democratic Union, an alliance between Meretz, Israel Democratic Party, Labor defector Stav Shaffir and the Green Movement, managed to scrape up five seats – less than half of the number of seats its leaders aspired to.

Labor's Amir Peretz at a Labor Party conference, November 25, 2019.
Labor's Amir Peretz at a Labor Party conference, November 25, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Labor-Gesher, which attempted to strengthen its bloc with right-wing voters from smaller Israeli communities, won six Knesset seats.

Over the past two days, both parties have begun to debate how, if anything, to refresh their lists: Will they try to replace Labor and Meretz leaders, and hold primary elections? Will both parties form a joint list to give them a safety net against the electoral threshold?

In Labor, it is estimated that the chances of replacing Chairman Amir Peretz are low, and there is currently no MK or external candidate who has decided to run against him. Peretz did not say whether Labor will run as an independent party in the upcoming elections, or whether it will join a larger bloc.  

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz is working to prevent a primary election within his party, while his predecessor, MK Tamar Zandberg, is considering re-running for party leadership. The future of a unified left-wing bloc is also unclear at this stage.