Labor likely to have few Arab reps - if any - in next Knesset

Only the 15th and 16th slots are reserved for Arab and Druse candidates, respectively.

Majadle 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Majadle 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
If polls are correct, Arab Knesset representation in the Labor Party following the February elections could be significantly reduced and might even be eliminated, depending on the number of mandates the party receives, political observers say. Meanwhile, members of a new Arab political party cofounded by MK Abbas Zakour (United Arab List), said they aim to attract a range of Arab voters, including some of Labor's traditional Arab voters, who may be disenchanted with the party and its prospects for Arab representation in the February elections. Arab voters "should vote for a party that can represent them," said Muhammad Kanaan, a former Knesset member who holds the second slot in the new Arab party, arguing that there is little if any chance that an Arab will be elected on the Labor list. Polls predict that the Labor Party will earn between six and ten mandates in the upcoming Knesset elections, compared to 19 in 2006. If this holds true, there might not be any Arab MKs from Labor, since only the 15th and 16th slots are reserved for Arab and Druse candidates, respectively. However, Arab-Israeli MK Nadia Hilou is contending for one of the slots reserved for women and thus could secure a realistic place. The 5th, 9th and 14th slots have been reserved for women. Labor's primaries were cancelled Tuesday due to technical problems and have been rescheduled for Thursday. Today, the Labor Party has one minister, Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadleh, one Arab MK, Hilou, and one Druse MK, Shakib Shanan. Little or no Arab representation in the Labor Party "would be very symbolic" since it would suggest "that Labor, which has been associated for so many years with the Arab sector, has really lost ground," said Elie Rekhess, director of Tel Aviv University's Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation. It also would mean that Labor would get fewer votes within the Arab sector come election time, he said. "If they have no representatives, and Labor cannot point to any breakthroughs they have managed to obtain with regard to the Arab sector, what's the appeal of Labor today?" Rekhess said. But Labor activist Nawaf Massalha, a former Arab Knesset member, said he was optimistic that the Labor Party, with hard work in the coming months, could receive 15 mandates, which would guarantee at least one Arab member. In addition, he said, some of Labor's Jewish candidates could drop out of the race, which could improve the chances of some of the Arab candidates. Labor has been losing Arab votes in recent years as the veteran Arab parties, such the United Arab List, Balad and to some extent the joint Arab-Jewish party Hadash, have grown stronger and more influential, Rekhess said. In addition, Arabs feel that Labor "has not delivered" in improving the overall situation of Arabs in Israel. Nor are they particularly sympathetic to the party's leader, Ehud Barak, who led the country during the October 2000 riots, in which 12 Arab citizens, one Palestinian and one Jewish Israeli were killed. While Labor and its affiliate, the Arab List, earned 58 percent of the Arab vote in 1969, Labor earned 20% of the Arab and Druse vote in 1992 and only 12.8% in 2006, Rekhess said. In addition, if Arabs rely on the polls predicting Labor won't earn more than 10 seats, "this may encourage potential Arab candidates to coalesce with other political factors in the Arab sector to set up a new political framework" or parties, he said, noting that there have been rumors that Majadleh could break away from Labor to join a new party. Meanwhile, Zakour is announcing details and candidates of his new Arab Party, "Hizb el-Wasat el-Arabi" (the Arab Sector Party) Wednesday at a press conference in Acre. The new party will focus on the day-to-day needs of the Arab population in Israel, such as education, unemployment, infrastructure and budgets of local councils, Kanaan said. "The party was established, first and foremost, to work on the daily internal issues, to work daily on the advancement of the status of Arabs in Israel," Kanaan told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "Today, the situation is very difficult" for Arab-Israelis, he said. "The Arab population needs 100 percent attention and investment." The new party, which also includes Arab representatives from the Triangle region, supports the Arab peace initiative and would be willing to join a left-wing government that would provide the Arab sector with the resources it needs, he said.