Regardless of the official election results, the United Arab List and the three parties in the Joint List will have to entirely rethink their modus operandi over the past year, starting immediately. Among many Arab voters, the partial dissolution of the Joint List, regardless of who’s guilty, has been perceived as a defiant and egocentric act. As in April 2019, tens of thousands of potential voters voted with their feet and sat out the election.
This time, the two camps explained the rift as an ideological split; it wasn’t an argument about spots on the ticket. The United Arab List did not rule out supporting a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, under certain conditions – a red flag for the parties that remained in the Joint List.
But the bottom line seems to be that these parties didn’t change enough for Arab voters to decide to go to the polls. Arab Israelis believe that in the complex relations between them and the state, the common interest must overcome what separates them; the rising violence, planning and construction issues, discrimination and the nation-state law are just a partial list. These issues are apparently much more important than the Palestinian issue and debates on LGBT rights and religious values.
Yes, hopes seem to have been dashed. Members of the United Arab List expected that stressing a conservative outlook would strengthen the party’s position in the Arab community, which is thought of as conservative. They also believed that running without the secular and perhaps extremist (in many eyes) Balad party would be another plus. And there was another argument – the strategy of influencing politics from within. Yes, alongside Likud.
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The exit polls seem to suggest that the party misread the amount of anger over leaving the Joint List (and not signing a surplus vote agreement with it). And there were other causes. There was the general frustration in the Arab community with Israeli politics, especially after a year of the coronavirus. The Arab public also didn’t forget that the Joint List recommended Benny Gantz as prime minister after the previous round, only to hear that once again a party didn’t want to rely on Arab votes.
From a more personal angle, if at the end of the vote-counting it turns out that the United Arab List fails to pass the electoral threshold, it will be a fatal blow for its leader, Mansour Abbas. He was the one who adopted the innovative formula that he wasn’t in anybody’s pocket and was open to negotiations, even with the right, under certain conditions. In the coming days, he could very well find himself outside the political game.
But even on the side that celebrated, somewhat, on Tuesday night in the northern town of Shfaram, the joy is tempered. Eight or nine seats for the Joint List, based on the exit polls, is only a relative success. The party cannot shirk responsibility for the shrinking Arab representation in the Knesset.
The Joint List, mainly Hadash and Balad, will have to be attentive to the public, and to the message that not being in the pocket of the center-left’s leader is legitimate. If they get nine seats, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and others can’t say they’ve achieved anything significant.
If the United Arab List winds up with four seats, this party will have won half as much as the other three Arab parties, and the United Arab List can claim it’s the largest Arab party or at least as big as Hadash. Whatever the final result, Arab politicians will have to do some major soul-searching.