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Israel’s Joint List splits into 2 election alliances

February 22, 2019 at 10:54 am

Dr Ahmad Tibi, Member of Knesset seen at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on 3 March, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Israel’s Joint List has split into two separate alliances ahead of the country’s upcoming general election, with Ta’al head Ahmad Tibi backing down on his determination to run alone.

With just moments to spare before the deadline to declare their electoral slates last night, the former Joint List parties announced that they would contest Israel’s general election on 9 April as two alliances.

The first is to be comprised of the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al), headed by Ahmad Tibi, and Hadash, headed by Ayman Odeh. The second alliance will be comprised of the former Joint List’s two remaining parties: the National Democratic Union (Balad) and the United Arab List (Ra’am).

The Ta’al-Hadash alliance will be jointly led by Odeh and Tibi and will feature seasoned Knesset members (MKs) Yousef Jabareen and Aida Touma-Sliman, as well as a host of new faces. Ofer Cassif was placed fifth on the slate, replacing Dov Khenin as the party’s only Jewish-Israeli candidate, the Times of Israel reported.

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Despite agreeing to be co-leaders of the new alliance, that Tibi has been placed second on the ticket will likely be seen as a blow for the veteran MK, who until yesterday was adamant that his Ta’al party would run alone. Tibi broke away from the Joint List in January, citing disagreements with the other parties over the distribution of seats within the alliance. 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.”

Initially, there was concern that Ta’al would not meet the 3.25 per cent of the vote – which usually translates into four seats – needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset. However, early polls demonstrated that Tibi could win 43 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel’s vote, compared to only 38 per cent for the remainder of the Joint List, which would have translated into about six seats.

Less is known about the second alliance comprised of Balad and Ra’am. 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.

In yesterday’s negotiations, Balad and Ra’am were reluctant to join forces with Hadash – whose communist roots differ greatly from the two parties’ nationalist outlook – without bringing Ta’al back into the fold and reinstating the full Joint List. Mtanes Shihadeh, who earlier this month secured the top spot on Balad’s slate, said that “there are points that we do not agree on [with Hadash] in terms of policy and list formation”.

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Yesterday’s deadline to declare the slates saw a frenzy of activity from all parties contesting the upcoming election. The biggest shock came from Israel’s centre, as Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party joined forces with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Announcing in a statement that the pair had held “marathon, all-night talks”, the new Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance will see Gantz and Lapid rotate the premiership, each serving for two and a half years.

Two polls conducted since the announcement have suggested that the new alliance could oust Netanyahu’s Likud party from government. A poll by Israel’s Channel 12 showed that Kahol Lavan would get 36 seats in the next Knesset, while Likud would receive 30. Channel 13’s poll, meanwhile, predicted Kahol Lavan would get 36 seats, compared to 26 for Likud.