The Palestinian Authority is trying to foster Jewish-Arab political cooperation in Israel, either by setting up a new party or by bolstering the Meretz party.
Since April’s Israeli election, senior PA officials have held talks with Israeli Arab mayors and political activists to explore the possibility of such cooperation.
But PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no contact in recent months with the heads of the Israeli Arab political parties, due to Ramallah’s unhappiness with their decision to dismantle the joint ticket they ran on in 2015, known as the Joint List. The party leaders are therefore seeking clarifications from Abbas on what exactly is being considered.
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The talks are being spearheaded by members of the PA’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, headed by Abbas confidant Muhammad Al-Madani. Officially, however, the committee denies any involvement in the issue.
Former MK Talab al-Sanaa, who is active in the committee, said the talks have no direct connection to the PA. However, he added, Ramallah is keeping a wary eye on Israeli politics and hasn’t hid its disappointment with the Arab parties over the dissolution of the Joint List.
“The Arab parties are fixated on the internal Arab arena, and we think that if you aspire to change and exert real influence, there’s room for cooperation on a much broader basis,” he said.
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But for now, he stressed, the idea is still in the exploration stage, as any practical steps will have to wait until the Arab parties decide whether or not to reconstitute the Joint List, a move they have been considering in advance of September’s do-over election.
Taibeh Mayor Shuaa Mansour confirmed that members of the PA committee had asked him whether he’d be interested in running as part of a new Jewish-Arab party. He added that he has been invited to discussions of the issue that are slated to take place in Ramallah as well as in Israeli spots such as Givat Haviva.
But Mansour said he has no interest in running for Knesset, and in any case would rather reconstruct the Joint List, since “at this stage, we’re not ready for a new party.”
A well-known Arab academic and political activist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of damaging his ties with Ramallah, also said he has been involved in the talks. His impression is that the Palestinians are more interested in strengthening Meretz than in bolstering the Arab parties.
One of those parties, Hadash, officially defines itself as an Arab-Jewish party. But people involved in the talks said they don’t see it as a suitable vehicle, because it mainly appeals to Arab voters.
“Anyone who wants real change must build on real partnership, and therefore, the tendency is to go for a new party,” one participant said.
MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) said he’s aware of the talks on forming a Jewish-Arab ticket, but isn’t sure whether they’re for real or merely intended to pressure the Arab parties. Moreover, he said, Meretz is currently busy with primaries, so it isn’t yet ready to discuss any such venture.
But PA officials tried to mobilize support for Meretz within the Arab community before April’s election as well, he added.
“There were talks with senior PA officials and with Talab a-Sanaa; they asked everyone they had influence over to support the party,” he said. “There were also attempts to explore the possibility of reserving a slot for an Arab candidate, but we made it clear that wouldn’t work.”
Senior members of both the Arab parties and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization comprised of Arab MKs and mayors, have warned the PA that its intervention may well undermine the Arab parties without bolstering the broader peace camp.
A senior official of the Hadash-Ta’al party said the tension between the sides stems from the PA’s viewing Israeli politics only through the prism of the occupation, while ignoring other Israeli Arab concerns.
“There have always been consultations between the [Israeli] Arab community’s leadership and the Palestinian leadership, but it’s a long way from there to intervening at the level of establishing a new party,” he said. “Establishing a Jewish-Arab political framework has been on the table for several years. Given the dissolution of the Joint List, the idea has won support from the Palestinian leadership. But the early elections have apparently shuffled the deck and torpedoed the plan.”
Another senior Hadash official, who sits on the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee as well, added that members of the Arab parties read the political map differently than the PA does.
“It’s not that the PA sides with the democratic camp while we are extremists who oppose cooperation,” he said. “But we’re reading the map on both the Jewish side and the Arab side, and we understand that the ground isn’t yet ready for a dramatic step like the PA wants. We’ve also made it clear at every opportunity that we’ll support any arrangement that ends the occupation.”
The PA’s interaction committee said the Arab parties’ behavior is an internal Israeli affair, and neither the PA nor the committee has any interest in intervening in it.
Nevertheless, a senior committee member added, the Palestinian leadership has never hidden its desire for the camp that supports ending the occupation to gain a significant role in Israeli politics.