Exit polls of the Israeli elections published by the main TV channels on Tuesday night showed that two Arab parties - the United Arab List (Ra’am) and Hadash-Ta’al – won 9-10 seats.
A third Arab party, Balad, did not cross the electoral threshold, according to the polls. Shortly before the polls were announced, Balad chairman MK Sami Abu Shehadeh still sounded optimistic, claiming his party would surprise everyone.
Updated exit polls later showed that Balad was close to crossing the threshold.
Two polls showed that Ra’am, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, increased its power from four to five seats. A third poll, however, showed that Ra’am, which was part of the outgoing government coalition, maintained its four seats.
The Hadash-Ta’al party headed by MK Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi won five seats, according to two of the exit polls. A third poll, however, gave Hadash-Ta’al only four seats.
“The results of the exit polls show that the Arabs are seeking integration, and not separation,” said political activist Zaki Mahmoud. “Balad, on the other hand, was fighting for the exact opposite.”
Unlike Balad, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al are not opposed to joining a government coalition.
The high turnout of voting in the Jewish communities came as a surprise to the Arab candidates and parties, who were more worried about the prospects of a low turnout in the Arab sector.
By 6 p.m., voting turnout in the Arab communities stood at 37%. In the last two hours before the closure of the polling stations, the number of voters appeared to increase in some cities and villages. By 7:30 p.m., the voting turnout reached 43%.
“Voting turnout in the Arab sector during the day has always been weak,” remarked Younes Jabareen, a resident of the city of Umm al-Fahm. “In the evening, however, the situation changes as people return home from work.”
Arab political analysts had predicted a low turnout in the Arab sector, citing widespread discontent over the performance of the Arab MKs and parties.
Divisions and internal bickering among the Arab parties and candidates, as well as their subsequent failure to sign surplus vote-sharing agreements, increased the frustration among many Arabs.
Surplus vote-sharing agreements stipulate that after being allocated their number of seats in the Knesset, two parties may pool their votes together in an attempt to win one of the “leftover” seats. Parties that sign such agreements have higher chances of winning the seats.
Other analysts said that many Arabs were also busy with the olive harvest season, which began in October. They pointed out that most Arabs usually prefer to cast their votes in the final hours before the closure of the voting process.
Alarmed by the low turnout, the three Arab parties – Hadash-Ta’al, United Arab List (Ra’am) and Balad – spent the day appealing to voters in the Arab sector to head to the polling stations.
The three parties were previously part of The Joint List.
In the 2020 elections, The Joint List increased its seats from 13 to 15, remaining the third-largest party in the Knesset.
In 2021, it ran in the elections without Ra’am, which withdrew from the alliance and ran separately. The Joint List won only six seats, a sharp decline compared to previous elections.
In an urgent appeal earlier in the day, Hadash-Ta’al, headed by Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi respectively, warned that the “situation is dangerous and we need to immediately wake up. The electoral process in our Arab communities is still very weak.”
Addressing the Arab Israelis three hours before the closure of the voting centers, a visibly frantic Odeh said: “I want to talk to you from a national, conscience aspect. We need to boost the morale of our people. We have three hours to surprise everyone. I call on everyone to realize that these are critical moments.”
Odeh claimed that a vote for Meretz of Labor would be a vote for Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. According to Odeh, the Arabs must work toward imposing the “bi-national reality” not only in the universities, hospitals and courts, but also in the Knesset.
Ra’am chairman MK Mansour Abbas also made a last-minute appeal to the Arabs to head to the ballot boxes.
Abbas claimed that the hysterical “campaign of begging” launched by Hadash-Ta’al had caused damage to his party because it created the false impression that Ra’am had already secured enough seats in the Knesset.
“As it appears now, our party will not pass the electoral threshold if the votes continue to move toward the two parties (Hadash-Ta’al and Balad),” he said.
A similar appeal was made by Balad chairman MK Sami Abu Shehadeh, who stressed the importance of maintaining the presence of the Arab parties in the Knesset.
“The Arab candidates made many mistakes and that’s why they lost the confidence of the people,” explained political analyst Samir Natour. “They failed to get their act together and spent a lot of time attacking each other instead of paying attention to the dangers of the radical Jewish parties. It was pathetic to see the Arab candidates pleading with the Arab voters to forgive them.”
Safwat Abu Rayya, mayor of the Arab city of Sakhnin in the Lower Galilee, said that the high turnout in the Jewish sector posed a serious threat to the Arab parties.
Urging Arabs to cast their ballots, he said: “In the wake of the low voter turnout in our society and the high voter turnout in the Jewish communities, especially among the extreme right, which poses a serious threat to all Arab lists, I urge you to go out and vote en masse for the future of our sons and daughters and for our rights in our homeland.”
Kamel Rayyan, a former mayor of the Kafr Bar’a village in the Triangle area, expressed deep concern over the possibility that Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism party would be appointed Public Security Minister.
Rayyan said that such a move would be “disgraceful” because Ben Gvir “will use his position to implement his racist agenda towards our Arab society in particular and towards our Palestinian people in general.”