East Jerusalem Arabs vote.
(photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
A new Arab party that aims to improve the daily lives of Arabs and promote Jewish-Arab dialogue in the country was officially launched on Wednesday, two months ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Hizb al-Wasat al-Arabi (the Arab Center Party) will focus on serving the day-to-day needs of Arab citizens, rather than on international or regional issues that are beyond their mandate, said party leader and cofounder Sheikh Abbas Zakour (United Arab List-Ta'al).
Zakour, who broke away from the more moderate southern branch of the Islamic Movement one-and-a-half years ago, said his party would work on issues important to the Arab population in Israel, such as their future, improving their lives and infrastructure, earning a living, and housing.
"We ask Israel to extend its hand in peace first with all its citizens inside the State of Israel, with Jewish and Arab citizens, that they be equal regarding their rights and regarding their daily lives. And if Israel is able to succeed in making real peace inside Israel, she will succeed with her neighbors," Zakour told The Jerusalem Post following a press conference at a hotel in Acre's Old City.
"We have the right to live the same way that Jews live in terms of housing, streets, schools, the workplace, industry, in opening up all areas of life for all citizens that live in the State of Israel, which calls itself a democratic state," he went on. "We want to see facts on the ground that this is a democratic state, not just lines written on a piece of paper."
Zakour had asked Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle of Labor to head the new Arab party, but he has declined and is apparently staying in Labor for the time being, he said.
The Arab Center Party aims "to conduct a real dialogue" with Jews from the Center to the Left on the daily needs of the Arab population and on bringing the two sides closer together, said Muhammad Kanaan, a former Knesset member who is second on the new party list.
The party is ready to lend its support or even join a Center-Left government "in exchange for receiving the rights of the Arab population in the State of Israel, budgets for Arab localities, and a change in policy toward the Arab population," he said.
He added that there was a need for dialogue inside the country to prevent relations from deteriorating.
"It's impossible to forget the October events," he said, referring to the October 2000 riots in which 12 Arabs, one Palestinian and one Jew were killed shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada. "I don't want there to be another confrontation between Arabs and Jews in Israel or between the Arab population and the government of Israel or the Israeli establishment."
But some political analysts said they were not overly impressed with the creation of another Arab party.
"At a time when there is the urgent need in Arab politics to unite, here is a political phenomenon that divides and deepens the fragmentation of the Arab political scene," said Elie Rekhess, director of Tel Aviv University's Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation.
The more competitors for the Arab vote there are, the more it weakens the potential of the Arab electorate, he said.
In addition, any new party would certainly face challenges. In order to succeed, it would have to build a distinct platform that made it unique among the Arab parties, Rekhess said, adding that the party had only about two months to build an organizational infrastructure and a base of supporters.
Finally, Rekhess said, both Zakour, who is from Acre, and Kanaan, who is from Tamra, come from the northern Galilee, and the party will have to build support throughout the rest of the country to pass the necessary threshold of votes and enter the Knesset.
"It won't be an easy task," he said.
The party's third slot is being held by Hussein Mahameed, a lawyer from Umm el-Fahm, while the party's fifth slot belongs to Malik Kabia, a Beduin lawyer from the North. The fourth slot, which is reserved for someone in the Southern Triangle region, has yet to be filled, Kanaan said.
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