Analysis: Arab party unity deal – will it last?

Now that each party has guaranteed seats in the next Knesset, it can be expected that ideological and personal differences will break it apart.

January 26, 2015 01:41
2 minute read.
MK Ahmad Tibi on Temple Mount

UAL-Ta'al MK Ahmad Tibi holds a Palestinian flag on Temple Mount. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Arab parties achieved a unity deal last Thursday after weeks of tough negotiations, but one thing is clear: It came under pressure and is likely to split up sooner rather than later.

The parties bickered endlessly over who would get higher positions on the list, with personal and ideological differences also playing a part in the delay.

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The United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash, and Balad struck an historic deal Thursday night to run as a united bloc. The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote and pressure from the Arab public have forced the parties to band together.

Now that each party has guaranteed seats in the next Knesset, it can be expected that ideological and personal differences will break it apart.

The struggle to maintain unity was evident on Sunday in back-to-back interviews on Army Radio dealing with the controversy over the cancellation by the nation’s largest bookstore chain, Steimatzky, of its in-store launch of the sale of the Charlie Hebdo French weekly after Arabs objected to its depiction of the prophet Muhammad.

Masud Gnaim, the head of the southern Islamic Movement’s United Arab List, has come out strongly against any sale of the weekly. He warned on Army Radio on Sunday that the result could trigger violence from the Arab public.

On the other hand, Dov Henin, from the socialist, secular, Jewish-Arab Hadash Party, when pressed to respond as to whether he agreed with Gnaim, said that he disagreed and supported freedom of expression and wouldn’t have prevent the distribution of the magazine.

Pressed about the ideological differences within the united Arab bloc, Henin said that each party maintains its own stances on issues, but that there is agreement on other important issues, like the need to deal with racism in the country.

Other members of Arab parties have made similar statements.

Back in December, Jamal Zahalka, the head of the Arab nationalist Balad Party, played down differences among the parties in an interview on Army Radio, saying that each party could keep its ideology, but together would push for specific common goals.

However, this juggernaut is likely to crash and burn as major disagreements come up in the next Knesset.

For example, will the Islamist United Arab List remain in a united list that moves to support policies that the Arab-Jewish socialist non-religious party Hadash supports? What if one of the MKs from Balad says something provocative or meets with Hamas members. Will Hadash keep quiet and maintain unity? Therefore, it appears that the present unity is more to do with passing the electoral threshold and less to do with a real intention to follow a common agenda. And so the weight of the differences within the Arab parties (and with the Jewish-Arab Hadash) are likely to cause it to collapse and crash from its own weight.

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