Arab parties have no favorite for PM

Balad chairman: Both sides treat us, the natives of this land, in a racist and discriminatory way.

mk taha 298.88 (photo credit: )
mk taha 298.88
(photo credit: )
Arab parties have affirmed that they will not recommend to President Shimon Peres that he designate either Kadima head Tzipi Livni or Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government and potentially become the next Prime Minister. "We're not playing in their field," said Wasil Taha, chairman of the Arab nationalist party Balad, which won three seats in Tuesday's election, as it did in 2006. "The two sides are similar and there is not a big difference between them, particularly concerning the Palestinian cause and negotiations for the sake of peace... The two sides negotiate for the sake of negotiations and not for the sake of a just peace and to achieve it," Taha said. "The two sides treat us, the natives of this land, in a racist and discriminatory way," he said. Livni, whose Kadima Party barely edged out Netanyahu's Likud in Tuesday's election, shared the responsibility for Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza, Taha said. "Her statements were very extreme... She had the possibility to prevent the war, and she didn't do it." MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta'al) agrees. "I don't need to choose between bad and worse," he said. Tibi said he had no reason to recommend Livni because he had no desire to be part of her coalition. In addition, her statements regarding Arab Israelis were "dangerous, particularly when she says that the future of Arab-Israelis will be elsewhere," he said. In December, Livni said that in the event of the formation of a Palestinian state, the national aspirations of Israeli Arabs would "lie elsewhere." In addition, Kadima had launched two wars on Arabs, in Lebanon and in Gaza war, he said. MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash), whose joint Arab-Jewish party won four seats - one more than last term - said after the exit polls were released on Tuesday night that he did not foresee supporting either of the two main candidates for prime minister. Rather than recommending a candidate for prime minister, "we will recommend a policy and a line" of thinking to Peres, he told reporters at the Hadash headquarters in Nazareth. "We have unequivocal demands of any government that will come to power in Israel," Barakeh said. Political observers called Tuesday's election historic for the Arab-Israeli community on several levels. First, there was "a collapse and retreat of Zionist parties almost completely" among Arab voters, said Mohanad Mustafa, a doctoral student in political science at the University of Haifa. While Mustafa did not yet have statistics on Wednesday, a glance at voting patterns in Arab villages showed that fewer Arabs voted for Zionist parties than in 2006, he said. The trend began a decade ago and "the climax of this retreat was in 2009," he said. Israel's military offensive in Gaza was the main reason that fewer Arab-Israeli voters chose Zionist parties, such Kadima, Labor and Meretz, he said. There was also a significant rise in the number of Arabs who voted for Arab parties, Mustafa said. Eleven Arab MKs were elected via Arab parties, which is one more MK than last time and the highest number ever to be elected through Arab parties, he said. This was largely a protest vote against the rise of Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and the extreme right, he said. Lieberman "understood this wave in Israeli society; that there is racism, hatred, for all kinds of reasons, and he jumped on this wave," Mustafa said. "People think that voting for Arab parties can be used as an antithesis against Lieberman." In addition, Tuesday's election attracted only 53 percent of Arab-Israeli voters to the polls, compared to 56% last time. It was the lowest turnout rate in the history of the state, due partly to a massive campaign by the northern branch of the Islamist Movement and an Arab nationalist organization called the Sons of the Village to boycott the election. Although advocates of boycotts expected to have greater success in this year's election, the dialogue of boycott was still strong, Mustafa said. The election were also historic because for the first time, an Arab woman candidate, Haneen Zoubi of Balad, entered the Knesset on the ticket of an Arab party. "It's not only important personally to Haneen or to the Balad Party; I think it's important on a national level," Mustafa said. "It can change the concept of Arab parties themselves [by encouraging them] to give more opportunities for women to run." Arab activists had mixed feelings about the results of the election. While Arabs have increased representation in the Knesset via Arab parties, it appears that only a national unity government would allow for political stability, said Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center-Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel. And such a government would certainly lead to changes in the political system "that will weaken the political representation of the Arab community in the future." For example, there has been talk about going to a two-party political system or raising the minimum threshold for a party to enter the Knesset to 5% from 2%, which would make it more challenging for Arab and other small parties to succeed. And the fact that Lieberman's party won 15 seats, up from the 11 it received in 2006, was further proof that "transfer and racism have been mainstreamed in Israeli politics," Farah said. "Separation and transfer of populations is a racist agenda," he said. "In any normal place, you can look for coexistence, you look at how people can live together... Separation of populations in any place means violating people's rights."