Analysis: Israeli Arab parties doing everything not to unite

It seems that Arab parties prefer not to be forced to run together, but to preserve the status quo, where each party can continue to call the shots for itself.

December 29, 2014 01:57
2 minute read.
Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Azmi Bashara

Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Azmi Bashara. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,ARAB MEDIA)

The High Court of Justice heard a petition on Sunday to declare the new, higher electoral threshold of 3.25 percent unconstitutional.

The decision to raise it from 2% of the vote forces parties to band together to win seats.

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However, the parties – United Arab List-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad – have been unable to close a deal to run together, much less agree on who would lead the new grouping for elections scheduled on March 17.

Perhaps it is this disagreement on a unity deal that is behind the legal push to revert to the old 2% threshold.

“We talked to all the Arab parties and they all were against raising the threshold,” said Nadeem Shehadeh, an attorney dealing with the case for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

The raising of the threshold was meant to target the Israeli Arab parties, he claimed.

“Every party has its own demands for being part of a united party,” he said.

Hadash considers itself a Jewish-Arab party, so if it is to be part of a united list, it would want to have Arabs and Jews on that list, he said.

Balad “is more democratic and liberal” and would “want a woman to have a reasonable place on the list” – something that other parties might not agree with, said Shehadeh.

According to a Panels Research poll taken last week for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication, Ma’ariv Sof Hashavua, United Arab List-Ta’al would get six seats, Hadash would get five, and Balad would fail to get in.

The poll found, in response to a separate question, that if the Arab parties were to unite, they would win 13 seats and become the Knesset’s fourth-largest faction after Labor, the Likud and Bayit Yehudi.

Arab turnout would increase compared to past elections, if a united Arab list were formed, Israeli-Arab MKs, academics and the Statnet research institute told the Post earlier this month. As a result, a unity deal – which is favored by the majority of Israeli Arabs – would probably increase the number of Arab seats in the Knesset.

So why is it so difficult for the parties to agree on unity? First, personal friction and ideology separate the parties.

Second, uniting would come at the expense of some candidates, who would have a worse chance of making it into the Knesset if the parties were to run separately.

Third, ego: the heads of the Arab parties all feel they should lead a united list.

“Hadash prefers unity, but not with Balad or the Islamic Movement’s party,” a knowledgeable political source told the Post this month.

Balad’s Jamal Zahalka is “pushing for unity and spreading disinformation” about this, even though negotiations are not progressing smoothly, because Balad is pressured by polls showing that it will not make it into the next Knesset, the source said.

The bottom line seems to be that the Arab parties prefer not to be forced to run together, but to preserve the status quo, where each party can continue to call the shots for itself.

But if the higher threshold is upheld, it can be expected that the parties will be forced to unite in some way and run either in one list or in two separate lists.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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