Splintered Arab-Israeli parties agree to new last-minute mergers
Marc Israel Sellem (AFP)
Arab-Israeli parties Ta’al and Hadash, led by Ahmad TIbi and Hyman Odeh respectively, reached an agreement to run together in the upcoming national elections, just a few hours before the party registration deadline approached Thursday night at 10:00 PM.
The move comes one day after the other two major Arab parties, Balad and Ra’am (the United Arab List) announced their joinder in the elections, splitting the Arab parties into two major factions.
There was speculation whether the four parties would reunite as the Joint List, which was shattered when Ta’al’s firebrand chairman Ahmad Tibi decided to break away in the beginning of the year.
The Joint Arab List was initially an alliance of four Arab political parties -- Hadash (led by Ayman Odeh), the United Arab List (led by Masud Ghnaim), Balad (led Jama; Zahalka) and formerly Ta’al -- that was formed in 2014 as a response to the raising of the electoral threshold from 2% to 3.25% in 2014.
Whilst remaining mum on his rationale at the time, analysts and MK’s interpreted Tibi’s breakaway as a tactical attempt to flex his muscles and expand his parties strength on the list.
Ta’al was slated to get five seats running independently according to i24NEWS-Israel Hayom poll published this week, to the Arab Joint List’s nine votes.
But the agreement grants Hadash places 1, 3, 5, 6 and 8 on the list for its members, while Ta'al will get to appoint its members to places 2, 4 and 7, suggesting that the party led by the Israeli-Arab lawyer Oded had more leverage in the negotiations.
Tibi and Oded have yet to officially register their parties, but the agreement provided that the two chairman would share the leadership for their ticket, following the example of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, whose Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid parties announced their merger a few hours earlier Thursday.
A senior Hadash official reportedly told Haaretz that the agreement was strongly opposed by party members but in light of developments in the national political arena there is no choice but to unite parties.
Balad and Ra'am announced they would run together on Wednesday in the absence of a larger Arab joint list.
The United Arab List (“Ra’am”) is popular among Bedouin voters. It generally supports a nationalist, moderately religious agenda.
It has traditionally run on a common ticket with Ta'al, one of the bigger parties in the Arab constituency.
Balad, like the United Arab List, is a nationalist movement that has regularly come under fire from the other side of the Israeli political spectrum for not supporting the state of Israel.
Controversial Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas, currently in jail for smuggling phones to Palestinians in Israeli jails, was a member of Balad.
The future of the Arab List first became uncertain in January when Tibi announced his decision to fragment.
Trailing his decision had been a disagreement among other Arab parties regarding Tibi’s push for open primaries for Joint List candidates. The other three parties reportedly rejected the demand to include the wider public in the process of determining the representation that each party received in the union.
“I was surprised by Ahmad Tibi’s decision. Now is precisely the time for greater unity and the consolidation of democratic forces,” Touma-Sliman, Hadash’s number two on the list, told Army Radio on shortly after the shock declaration. Whilst Balad Secretary General Matanis Shehadeh, dubbed it as a effort to “sabotage the alliance.”
Prior to Ta’al’s splintering, the Joint-List constituted the third-largest bloc in the 20th Knesset after winning 13 seats (10.5% of the total vote) in the 2015 election.
Ta’al is known in English as the ‘Arab Movement for Change.’ According to the Israel Democracy Institute, the party supports the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with a view towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and a just solution to the refugee problem.
The party, which also describes itself as secular, also works to reduce the gaps between Israeli Arabs and the Jewish majority and seeks civil equality in all areas of life.
Tibi, viewed as the most senior Arab MK having served since 1999, currently serves as one of ten deputy speakers of the Knesset representing the Arab-Israeli MK block. He formerly served as a political adviser to the former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from 1993 -1999. He is a trained physician, graduate of Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree in gynecology.
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