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(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Islamic Movement in Israel achieved representation in all nine Arab localities where it ran in municipal elections but experts describe its record as mixed, with new successes in the impoverished Negev but an apparent regression in the southern part of the "Triangle" region.
During the last municipal elections in 2003, the Islamic Movement earned representation in only 7 out of 12 localities in which they ran.
This time, the Islamic Movement "ran in nine localities, and in all of them, it won representation on the councils. This means, from this perspective, it had a 100 percent success rate," said Arik Rudnitzky, project manager of Tel Aviv University's Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish Arab Cooperation, which organized a conference on Arab local councils held on Monday.
"The Islamic Movement lowered its aspirations a bit" by running in fewer municipalities, he said. "It is very realistic about its political ability. But it fulfills the goals and expectations that it sets for itself."
The southern branch of the Islamic Movement won a council majority in Rahat - an important win since it is the largest Beduin city in the Negev - as well as in Hura, while the more radical northern branch maintained its dominance in Umm el-Fahm.
Islamic Movement candidates also will head three local councils - in Jaljulia, Hura and Umm el-Fahm - the same number as last elections. In Rahat, the Islamic Movement candidate is leading as that election heads to a runoff. The Movement hopes to regain town's top position, which it lost in 2003.
The power of the Islamic Movement may be shifting from the Triangle region - where it seems to have weakened - to the Negev, Rudnitzky said. The Triangle region, located in the eastern Sharon plain, is a concentration of Arab-Israeli towns and villages adjacent to the Green Line.
In the city of Kafr Kassem, for example, the Islamic Movement lost the mayoralty for the first time in nearly 20 years. The Movement has also lost seats in Kafr Kassem and Tira, Rudnitzky said.
And in Israel's largest Arab city, Nazareth, the Islamic Movement and its supporters lost the majority on the city council as well as its fight against incumbent Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, who ran on the ticket of the communist party Hadash.
By contrast, in the Negev, the Islamic Movement has won a council majority in two Beduin towns, and is the second strongest movement in two others, Tel Sheva and Segev Shalom.
Essentially, "they have a solid grasp in four Beduin localities", Rudnitzky said.
In the 2003 elections, the Islamic Movement ran in only two Negev localities - Rahat and Tel Sheva.
While some speak of an "Islamization" of Beduins in the Negev, Rudnitzky believes the shift is likely due to the Islamic Movement's ability to fill gaps in services that are supposed to provided by the state.
"We know that the situation for the Beduin in the south, from a socioeconomic perspective, is the worst in comparison to other residents of the state," he said. "Thus it is reasonable to assume that these are the places that the state is failing in terms of delivering local services, like welfare or health or education."
But recent events - including internal divisions within the movement - indicate that both the northern branch and the southern branch of the Islamic Movement have reached a critical stage in their development in Israel, says Mordechai Kedar, a research associate at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Veteran members of the Islamic Movement - which was established more than 35 years ago - are starting to marginalize ideology in favor of personal interests.
In such cases, the young, idealistic generation tries to bring the organization back to its traditional goals - until they, too, become older and lose sight of their ideals, he said.
"This is how it works with every organization," he said.