Leading Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi submitted a request on Tuesday to split from the Joint List, the alliance of Arab political parties that includes the party he chairs.
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Tibi's request, made to the chairman of the Knesset's House Committee, comes three months before Israelis head to the polls on April 9 for the first general election since 2015.
Tibi's decision comes after months in which he has urged open primaries for Joint List candidates, or a distribution of parties' seats within the alliance based on public surveys, partly in the hopes of increasing Ta'al's strength. The other three Joint List parties did not cooperate with his efforts.
Senior sources in Ta'al told Haaretz that the other three parties in the alliance rejected the party's demand to include the wider public in the process of deciding what representation each party receives in the alliance.
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"The one who wants to see the Joint List break up more than anyone is Netanyahu," said Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, who represents the Hadash party, after Tibi's request was submitted. "Those who want to divide and conquer the Arabs are the radical right. I am proud to be part of a party that can put ideology above personal interests." Balad Secretary General Matanis Shehadeh told Haaretz that the goal of Tibi's move was to "sabotage the alliance, and the Arab public will punish the one who stabotage this political experiment."
Sources in the Joint List are not ruling out the possibility that Tibi is attempting to pressure colleagues into enlarging Ta'al's representation. "We suppose that Tibi's announcement is spin, with the goal of extorting another seat for his party within the Joint List," a Joint List source said. "We have still not received explanations for the move from Tibi and have not heard of a serious alternative framework he is creating. Tibi has flexed his muscles in the past few weeks in an attempt to expand his strength in the ticket from one and a half MKs [with one of these MKs rotating with representatives of other parties] to two permanent seats. There isn't much logic in him running alone. It's too great a risk for him. So one can assume that he will eventually join us again."
Tibi spoke privately in recent months about the possibility of his party running separately from the other three parties in the alliance, presenting surveys showing his party, Ta'al, passing the minimum electoral threshold for entering the Knesset.
However, he is aware that a split would be a risky gamble that could see his party left out in the cold. "Everything possible should be done in order to increase the Arab community's voter turnout in the next election," Tibi said. "This can occur only if the Arab public is given a real opportunity to influence the makeup of the Joint List democratically and according to a fair distribution [of seats]. If this does not occur and deals are made like in the formation of the Joint List for the 20th Knesset, it will be difficult to reach an agreement for running on the same ticket."
The Joint List was formed in 2014 after Israel raised the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent, making it likelier that individual parties representing Israel's Arab population could be shut out of the Knesset unless they allied with other parties. It is currently the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. Polls released Wednesday by the Israel Television News Company and Kan public television projected that it would win 12 seats in the upcoming election, making it the third- or fourth-largest Knesset bloc.