By: Tal Schneider
A series of events taking place in the Arab political parties may have a significant effect on the Israeli electoral map.
During the previous term, attempts to reform Israel’s feeble parliamentary system resulted in a change in the electoral threshold necessary for a party to be allocated a Knesset seat: instead of 2% it was raised to the current 3.25%, or, in other words, about four Knesset seats.
While the move was spearheaded by Yair Lapid’s centrist party, Yesh Atid, which ran on a good government platform and at 19 seats was the largest Knesset faction, right-wingers spied a different reason to support the legislation: the possibility of sidelining smaller Arab parties.
Balad, Raam-Ta’al and Hadash, the three parties representing most of Israel’s Arab sector, each currently hold between three to four seats.
Its important to underscore that apart from their fear of elimination, these three parties have little in common. Hadash, a Socialist party with Communist roots, champions Jewish-Arab cooperation. In fact, the Knesset member representing the party in talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu was Dov Hanin. Balad is an openly nationalistic party with a separatist bent and a well-to-do, capitalist membership. You could say its the Arab sector’s Likud. Raam-Ta’al, following this metaphor, could be seen as the Arab sector’s Shas: no primaries, no women and Islamic participation.
In short, they have nothing, but nothing in common, and only detached or self-interested Jewish politicians like Lieberman and Lapid could conjure a situation in which the three parties would be seen as one.
Last night, I (Tal Schneider) attended the convention of Hadash, the prominent among these parties, that eventually and with a very heavy heart agreed to join a unified list in order to ensure their own political survival– with caveats entrusted to the party negotiators guaranteeing that the participation of women and cooperation between Jews and Arabs will not be touched.
MK Muhammad Barakeh, who will lead this three-legged creature, made one of the best speeches of his life, promising to preserve the party’s character, but Jewish Hadash members wandered aimlessly around the Nazareth wedding hall that hosted the event openly saying that if Hadash is subsumed into a wider bench of Arab parties they might no longer find their home there.
That said, there is significant public pressure for the parties to come together. Polls show great enthusiasm for a joint list especially among young voters, and are foreseeing much higher-than-average voter participation in the Arab sector. Arab voter turnout has hovered at about 55% in recent years, compared to Jewish sector participation that stands at about 65%. However, the public appetite for a new, joint Arab list seems to portend a significant surge, and if the fantasy of some Arab party leaders comes true and as many as 75% or even 80% (!) of the Arab public turns out to vote, the unified list could achieve 13 or 14 Knesset seats.
So Leiberman, who pushed hard for the threshold law, now finds himself in a “be careful what you wish for” predicament.
Tal’s post about Hadash Convention in Arabic
Tal’s post about Hadash Convention in Hebrew
Translated to English by: Noga Tarnopolsky