A brief examination of the election outcome indicates that the Arab parties have suffered a severe blow. The representation of the four parties which formed the Joint List in the outgoing Knesset – Hadash, Balad, Ta’al, and the United Arab List (Ra’am), which ran separately in last month’s election – dropped from 15 seats to only 10.
In absolute numbers, too, there was a sharp decline in the Arab voter turnout.
MK Ahmad Tibi, chairman of the Ta’al Party, said it in his own witty and clever way earlier this week: “Some 230,000 of our constituency voted with their feet – they stayed at home and did not vote. This requires a serious rethinking in each party, and among the entire Joint List.”
However, the result should not be a surprise for the Joint List and Ra’am. In the April 2019 election, the parties that ran in pairs – Hadash and Ta’al, and Ra’am and Balad – also suffered a decline from 13 to 10 seats.
Israel Democracy Institute researcher Dr. Arik Rudnitzky told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the low turnout of Arab voters is not part of a popular Palestinian boycott of the Israeli election, as some claim, but is a result of this separation of the Arab parties.
“The Arab society is now on standby,” Rudnitzky said. “It waits to see how things will develop. The current state of affairs is confusion and political frustration. They feel that the entire large potential of the Joint List wasn’t wisely used by the [constituent] parties.
“It is not about the separation itself,” he added. “On the contrary – the public received this separation with understanding. But it did not understand why it turned into a bloody war between the Joint List and Ra’am.”
Despite the disappointing results, the outcome – as well as the new attitude Ra’am adopted – has led the Arab parties to a major crossroads that could direct Arab society toward a major success.
Ra’am – the Hebrew initials of “United Arab List” – is the party representing the Islamic Movement in Israel (or within the 1948 lines – “the Palestinian internal land,” in the movement’s phraseology). More specifically, it represents the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, which decided about 40 years ago to send representatives to local authority councils and later to the Knesset as well.
In this election, the movement decided to make a strategic step to promote Arab society, even to sit in a coalition with the Israeli Right.
“[I’m] not ruling out anyone,” party leader Mansour Abbas said a day after the election last week. “I’m ruling out whoever rules me out.”
Later on, Abbas said that he would negotiate only with leaders of parties that could form a government – essentially meaning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
The party slogan adopted during the election campaign was “Realistic. Influencing. Traditional,” which perfectly demonstrates the three legs that the party is currently standing on – being pragmatic regarding the other political parties in Israel; abandoning the Arab boycott stance by joining a coalition in order have influence; and promoting Muslim traditional and religious values through politics.
According to a report by KAN’s Suleiman Maswadeh, Ra’am intends to demand six things: a budget dedicated to fighting crime in Arab society; cancellation of the so-called Kaminitz Law; changing the Nation-State Law; expanding the authority of local municipalities; granting more construction permits in Arab towns; and increasing the number of Arab employees in the public service sector.
“Ra’am presented a new attitude toward Israeli politics,” Rudnitzky said. “They understood that the Arab politics is in crisis, and tried something new.
“If this move works, it would be an earthquake. It could be a turning point in Arab politics and in the orientation of the [Arab] parties and voters. Such a thing will succeed if, for example, Ra’am will manage to join, or support, a ruling coalition – and to score achievements that will promote Arab society, such as recognition of Bedouin villages or another five-year plan for Arab society,” he said.
It seems that the 2021 election marked a new era in Arab politics, and might set a new tone for the future.
The fading of the Palestinian struggle and the weakening of Fatah in the West Bank were not lost on the Palestinian citizens of Israel. They find it hard to raise the Palestinian flag when the voice of the Palestinians in the West Bank is hardly heard. This, on top of the new attitude that Ra’am presents, will eventually have to make the parties of the Joint List rethink their ways.
Hadash, the Israeli-Palestinian Communist party, which used to be the hegemonic party of Israel’s Arabs, now has the same number of representatives as Islamist Ra’am.
If, on the other hand, Ra’am’s revolutionary move fails to move Israeli politics – just as the revolutionary move of the Joint List to support Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for prime minister in elections last year and in 2019 saw him turn his back on them – it will prompt another reshuffling of the cards. In such a scenario a deep and thorough rethinking of the future of Arab-Israeli politics will be necessary.•