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Arab politicians in Israel have always called for unity among the Arab parties to increase their political influence in the Knesset, but this time they say they mean it.
The recent decision to raise the party threshold for entering the Knesset from one and a half percent of the votes to 2% has made many Arab members of Knesset scrambling to find partners with whom to run in the upcoming elections.
"We hope to unite with all the [Arab] political parties including Balad and Hadash/Tal," Abdulmalik Dahamshe, the head of the United Arab List, told The Jerusalem Post. "We know that unity is power."
Until recently Dahamshe was the leader of the southern faction of the Islamic Movement which, together with Mada, a party led by Taleb A-Sanaa, had two seats in the Knesset.
The change to a minimum of 2% of the vote is equivalent to almost three electoral mandates. That means that some of the Arab MKs whose parties today have only one or two seats in the Knesset will be in serious danger of losing them. The UAL is now in danger of not being able to enter the Knesset doors next spring.
A-Sanaa has more reason to worry. He has only one seat and it remains in question whether Mada and the Islamic Movement will remain political partners following the recent election of Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur as the head of the Movement. Today A-Sanaa contacted all the Arab parties calling on them to unite.
"In the present political map we need to go above our party and personal differences," A-Sanaa told the Post. He wants to establish an Arab list that will make the Arabs the third or fourth biggest power in Knesset. "That way we can influence the things that affect the Arab sector and promote peace in the region."
While some MKs are calling for unity, others are in no hurry to make concessions.
Hadash and Balad are the strongest of the parties. Hadash is a Jewish-Arab party with two mandates, in a coalition with Tal, the party led by MK Ahmed Tibi. Balad is a party led by Azmi Bishara, which has three mandates. Neither of them are in a hurry to make pacts with the other Arab parties.
"We will call for the leftist Arab parties and democratic Jewish organizations to join us to build a bloc left of the Labor party," said Issam Mahoul, an MK from Hadash. But its up to others to follow the Hadash agenda if they want to join, said Mahoul. "For us it's important that it be on a joint Arab-Jewish path based on social justice and peace." Balad is not looking for partners, but would accept them if they are political parties.
"What we care about is that there should be a high turnout of Arab voters and that votes don't get lost by parties that cannot pass [the minimum]," Bishara told the Post. "We would be willing to consider making coalition with other parties, but not with individuals."
Bishara believed that the higher minimum would be good for the Arab influence in politics because it would weed out the individuals who got votes because of familial and tribal ties.
"We should strengthen the parties and not strengthen personalities. Strengthening individuals is a type of opportunism," said Bishara.
The problem, said some politicians, was if some smaller Arab parties ran but did not pass the minimum.
"I hope that no more than two names will run in the Arab sector because, if they do, it's possible that the others won't pass the 2% and there won't be an Arab voice in the Knesset and that's not good for the Arab sector," said TAL Chairman Osama Shaadi.
Mahoul acknowledged that the raised minimum could mean the lowering of the Arab voice in the Knesset.
"That's a possibility and we can't control it," said Mahoul. "But, it's the responsibility of the those who are running who know that they have no chance of passing the [threshold] not to do so."
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