The upcoming elections are like a chess game for the Israeli Arab parties. Each one must make careful calculations about how many slots it would get if it were to make a joint list with any other Arab party. Each move also depends on the moves of the other parties.
Compromise is the key word. The Israeli Arab parties are bending their ideological positions in order to be able to make coalitions, as the hike in the minimum threshold needed to enter the Knesset is forcing the parties to join together to get any Arab MKs at all into the 17th Knesset.
Under the new threshold of 2 percent, only one of the Arab parties has enough support to make it into the Knesset. The Hadash-Ta'al coalition, which now has three seats, would be able to keep those seats. Balad, whose three seats are headed by MK Azmi Bishara, would not have crossed the threshold. The same goes for the United Arab List, which has only two seats, filled by MK Abdul Malik Dahamshe from the Islamic Movement (Southern faction) and Taleb a-Sanaa from RAM.
Now, for the first time, the nationalist Balad is considering joining forces with the UAL, which is now headed by Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour, the head of the Islamist Movement. Sarsour prefers to hook up with MK Ahmed Tibi of Ta'al, but the latter already has obligations to the Hadash party with which it was united in the current Knesset.
Still, it is not certain that Hadash will again decide to make a joint coalition with Ta'al. That will be decided by vote at the Hadash Central Committee Convention on January 14. Until then, Ta'al can't print campaign posters because it doesn't know which party to put on them.
Hadash is debating what is more important: having a Jewish MK in its party to preserve the Arab-Jewish image of the party and keep Jewish voters (even though the majority of its voters are Arab), or keeping Tibi, who has a wider voter base and serves the Arab sector, in the No. 3 slot.
Muhammad Barakei has the No. 1 spot, and he prefers to unite again with Tibi. But the small communist element of Hadash wants to reserve a spot for a Jew. However, Issam Mahoul, the Arab communist with the No. 2 spot, is likely to lose his seat to either Hannah Sweid, the chairman of the party, or the choice of the Arab women's lobby: Aida Toma-Suliman, who heads the Association of Women Against Violence.
Jamal Zahalka, the chairman of the Balad party, told The Jerusalem Post that the three Arab lists will likely be consolidated into two camps. The reason they will not be united into one is because Hadash's communist element opposes making a coalition with the Islamists.
Balad is key. The 62,000 votes it got in the last elections would likely be burned in this one if it doesn't decide to join any other party. But a long-standing feud between Tibi and Bishara means that the two Arab leaders are not likely to be in the same coalition. If Hadash keeps Tibi, Balad may join the Islamists.
"We are checking out this issue," said Zahalka. "We haven't come to a decision yet."
Meanwhile, the Arab MKs have been making trips to Arab countries in order to get support for their voters. Earlier this year, Tibi got Qatar to donate millions of dollars for a stadium for the Bnei Sakhnin soccer team. Sanaa made a similar visit in November - as well as an earlier visit to Syria, for which the police want to question him.
Last month, Bishara made headlines with an anti-Zionist speech at a Lebanese book festival. This week, Dahamshe is visiting Jordan, where he met with the Minister of Education in the hopes of facilitating the studies of Israeli Arab students who are studying at Jordanian universities.