Israeli Arab Political Alliance Likely to Break Up Over Religious Tensions, Netanyahu Ties

Sources say a meeting of Joint List leaders only deepens the schism ahead of the March election, after Islamic faction demanded to preserve its right to vote independently, which could mean backing Netanyahu for prime minister

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Joint List party leaders in Shfaram, northern Israel, 2020.
Joint List party leaders in Shfaram, northern Israel, 2020. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A day after the meeting between the heads of the four parties that make up the Joint List, the rift seems to be getting worse. Despite efforts at reconciliation, the four party leaders are not holding out much hope for bridging the gaps and running together.

On Sunday evening the party chairmen – MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), MK Mansour Abbas (United Arab List), MK Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al) and the outgoing Balad chairman Mtanes Shehadeh – met for the first time in several weeks, in an effort to advance guidelines that would enable the parties to unite for the March 23 election.

Everybody wants their vote. But what do Israeli-Arab voters want? LISTEN to our podcastCredit: Everybody wants their vote. But what do Israeli-Arab voters want? LISTEN to our podcast

The meeting, in the home of the Mohammed Barakeh, chairman of the High Monitoring Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, and which did not include any other party activists, focused on the extent of commitment expected of each party to decisions made by a majority of the members. While diplomatic, political and social issues on the agenda were discussed, the emphasis was on a new working arrangement to avoid a repeat of recent months, when the UAL was acting more like an independent faction.

Participants agreed to hold another meeting Tuesday that would include other party representatives. But the sense in all four parties was of skepticism, and the spin was already starting to spread overnight Sunday that the chances for progress were slim, with allegations traded over who was trying to scuttle the efforts.

Differences reached a peak Monday afternoon when UAL issued a statement saying that in the Sunday meeting, a request was made to avoid votes that undermine the religious and conservative character of Arab society. Legislation affecting the LGBTQ community was specified, as were surrogacy laws and issues regarding sharia courts. In addition, UAL said it had demanded that the Joint List respect its wish to vote independently because the party does not like being considered in the pocket of either side of the political map, left or right, but rather wants to serve the Arab public as a whole.

“We are working on the assumption that there’s no place for being under the sponsorship of any element on the left or right, and that we’ll work in the Knesset to truly have influence and distance ourselves from slogans and populism,” the party said. “All this won’t happen unless we abandon our fixation and play on the field rather than sit on the bench, while conducting policy in a rational manner without yielding on religious and national principles.”

Hadash was infuriated by the announcement, arguing that its release showed that UAL had no desire to work together with the rest of the list. A senior Hadash source told Haaretz that the UAL announcement and the presentation of religious matters as the primary issue discussed showed it had no intention of making progress.

Hadash said the main disagreement was over UAL’s refusal to commit to the agreed-upon political platform and to the mechanism for decision-making. Hadash also rejected the UAL’s “free vote” demand, which could mean UAL recommending Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, voting for the “French law” to block prosecution of a sitting prime minister, or making any other covert deal with Likud.

“Joining or assisting, directly or indirectly, a right-wing government, annexation and the settlements are a red line as far as we’re concerned,” Hadash said. “We will not have a Likud branch in the Joint List.”

Balad also issued a statement condemning UAL, while Ta’al sufficed with a short statement saying there was no place for declarations so long as the meetings were continuing.

It seemed clear that Hadash and Balad would stick together; as Haaretz reported several weeks ago these parties have already agreed to run on a merged slate. UAL is seen likely to recruit new faces and run independently, while Ta’al has yet to decide whether to run with the first two parties or with UAL. Distribution of slots on the ticket hasn’t yet been discussed, and this could prove important in determining with whom Ta’al will run.

The parties are poring over in-depth surveys that portray different scenarios, including a possible drop in Arab turnout if the parties split up, or a possible Arab vote of up to 25 percent for Zionist parties.

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