More Arabs expected to vote in March

'Zionist parties will get more votes from Arabs this time than in the past.'

More Arabs will vote in the upcoming elections than the last one and almost half of them will vote for Zionist parties, according to experts and an opinion poll released Wednesday. Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University, sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer foundation, Prof. Majid Al-Haj, vice president of Haifa University, told a packed audience that "the Zionist parties will get many more votes from Arabs this time than in the past." He added that the result may be that only one Arab party exists in the next Knesset. That was supported by the results of a public opinion poll taken for the Dayan Center by the Yaffa Institute. Dr. Elie Rekhess, an expert on Arab Israeli politics at the Dayan Center, told the audience at the conference on Arab Politics in Israel and the Forthcoming Knesset Elections that 48 percent of Arab voters will cast their ballots for Zionist parties and 51 percent will vote for Arab parties. In the 2003 elections only 30 percent voted for Zionist parties. The combination of Amir Peretz taking the reins of the Labor Party, the raising of the minimum number of votes for a party to enter parliament, and disappointment among Arab voters in Arab MKs, will give the Labor Party more Arab votes than any Arab party, according to the poll which surveyed 545 Arabs by phone across the country. The error margin is five percent. The poll showed 67% of Arab voters will go to the polls, an increase of 5% from the last elections and the Labor party will be the big winner. The united list of Hadash and MK Ahmed Tibi's TAL party will be the longest Arab list with almost 22% of the Arab vote, but Labor will get 33%. In the 2003 elections Labor got only 7.7% of the Arab vote. "This shows a significant change of support by Arab voters for Labor," said Rekhess. There are other factors for Arab voters; likely abandonment of the sectorial parties that represent their interests, explained Haj, such as fear that their votes would be lost by candidates that don't make it into the Knesset. "The raising of the minimum number of votes required to enter the Knesset means that a party needs close to 80,000 votes to enter," said Haj. "Today only Hadash would pass." The other issue is the ability of the Arab MKs to solve interests most important to the Arabs in Israel. "The voters are also disappointed with what the Arab MKs achieved," said Haj, who recently became the first Arab to be appointed a dean at an Israeli university. Rekhess said that while the Arab MKs are present at most parliamentary votes and are very involved in parliamentary activities, they are unable to pass any laws on issues which most concern the Arab sector, status and identity. "Those bill proposals get torpedoed time after time," said Rekhess. The result is that the Arab MKs are now under great stress, said Haj. Rekhess noted that the solution to the dilemma of the Arab MKs, however unlikely, is that they make a united list. He also said that if they worked together to get Arabs to vote, then it might work in their favor. "If the Arab parties work under an umbrella and make a sort of planning headquarters to organize buses and taxis on election day it will raise the percentage of voters," said Rekhess in what sounded like a recommendation. The survey also showed that the highest voter turnout would likely be in the area of Wadi Ara, also known as the Upper Triangle, where the highest number of members of the Islamist party live.