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Israel: Joint List struggling to reach agreement as alliance deadline looms

February 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Member of the Knesset for the United Arab List Masud Ghnaim (L) and Ayman Odeh (R) member of the Knesset and head of the Joint List, a political alliance of four Arab-dominated parties Hadash, Balad, the United Arab List, and Ta’al during a conference organised by Abp Asbl (Association belgo palestinienne) on September 3, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. [Thierry Monasse/Getty Images]

Israel’s Joint List is struggling to reach an agreement on its electoral slate, raising questions as to whether its component parties will be forced to run alone in the country’s upcoming general election.

The Joint List is an alliance of three predominantly Arab-Israeli parties: The United Arab List (Ra’am); the National Democratic Union (Balad); and Hadash, members of which have been holding talks to agree on their electoral slate. Though most parties contesting Israel’s upcoming general election on 9 April have already submitted their official slates ahead of today’s deadline, the Joint List has yet to declare its candidates.

Talks were still ongoing yesterday among the factions, the Times of Israel reported, with Ahmad Tibi insisting that his Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al) party will stand alone in the election. Tibi broke away from the Joint List in January, citing disagreements with the other parties over the distribution of seats within the alliance. Leader of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, slammed Tibi’s decision, saying: “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is the one who would like to see the Joint List break apart most, and the extreme Right would love to divide and rule the Arabs.”

The latest arrangement looks likely to see Balad and Ra’am work together if no arrangement on a complete Joint List can be agreed. Ra’am is generally popular with Palestinian Bedouin voters, most of whom live in the Negev (Naqab) desert in southern Israel, and is seen as supporting Palestinian national positions. Balad is also a nationalist party, meaning the two parties’ shared values make them a natural fit for cooperation.

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However, this has put Balad and Ra’am on a collision course with Hadash, a left-wing party seen as the successor of the historic Israeli Communist Party. Headed by Ayman Odeh, the party has been one of the strongest factions of the Joint List, meaning it could run alone on 9 April and stand a chance of reaching the 3.25 per cent of the vote – usually amounting to four seats – needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset.

Balad and Ra’am have said they will not team up with Hadash unless Tibi brings his Ta’al party back into the fold, a move unlikely to happen given the fact that recent polls show he too could pass the minimum threshold even when standing alone. Mtanes Shihadeh – who earlier this month secured the top spot on Balad’s slate – told the Times of Israel that “there are points that we do not agree on [with Hadash] in terms of policy and list formation”.

Yousef Jabareen, a Knesset Member (MK) for Hadash, told MEMO that his party is “in the middle of a meeting” and is “considering all options”. Jabareen added: “We will do our best to keep the Joint List together. However, other options are being considered, including running alone or with another party.”

The Joint List performed well in the 2015 elections, gaining 13 seats in the Knesset to become the third-largest party. However, though the alliance is seen as representing Israel’s some 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, the community has recently expressed dissatisfaction with its performance. In January, a poll found that almost half of all Palestinian citizens of Israel were dissatisfied with the Joint List, with 50 per cent claiming the alliance did not represent them and had not done enough to tackle challenges facing their community.

A separate poll conducted later in January found that 64 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel would support joining the ruling coalition, even if that meant joining a right-wing government. These findings ran counter to the long-held assumption that Palestinian citizens of Israel would only vote for an Arab-Israeli party, and were interpreted as signalling a wish for meaningful change and strengthening democratic participation across ethno-national lines.

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