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Joint List of Arab parties splinters, as Ra’am decamps in a perceived win for PM

Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al ink accord ahead of elections, but Islamist faction is left out after making overtures to Netanyahu

Joint List factions: Hadash, Balad, and Ta'al sign an agreement for the March elections on February 3, 2021. (Courtesy: Joint List)
Joint List factions: Hadash, Balad, and Ta'al sign an agreement for the March elections on February 3, 2021. (Courtesy: Joint List)

After failing to reach an agreement in recent weeks, the predominantly Arab Joint List party announced Wednesday night that it will run in the March elections without the Ra’am faction.

The remaining three factions — Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al — agreed to remain under the name the Joint List, increasing the odds that Ra’am, an Islamist party, will fail to pass the electoral threshold alone.

The splintering of the Joint List was made official on Thursday.

Tensions among the four Arab parties had been rising steadily over the past few months, stoked by Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, who has publicly pursued closer ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a move seen by his Joint List colleagues as beyond the pale.

Analysts said the split in the Joint List, which won 15 seats in the last elections, marked a victory for Netanyahu. The Joint List has been polling at only 10 seats, and may fall further without Ra’am. A weaker Joint List could mean fewer MKs in the Knesset who are opposed to Netanyahu’s continued prime ministership.

“We’ve critically hurt the anti-Netanyahu bloc,” a senior Likud official told Channel 13 on Thursday evening, referring to the Arab politicians’ infighting and other developments Thursday in which several center-left parties failed to merge or dropped out of the electoral race.

Running alone, Ra’am may fail to clear the 3.25% Knesset threshold. If it does make it into parliament, its leader Abbas has refused to say who it might endorse for prime minister. “We’ll be the leading political force in Arab society,” Abbas said Thursday.

Abbas has said that in order to advance legislative priorities for the Arab community, he would even consider voting in favor of a law providing Netanyahu with immunity from prosecution in his corruption cases, or serve as a minister in a Likud-led government.

Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party holds a press conference after a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Wednesday, however, Ra’am claimed that its split from the Joint List was a matter of religious principle, asserting in a statement that “the other factions of the Joint List have refused to commit to not voting on laws that contradict the beliefs of our conservative society, including support for homosexuality.”

After the remaining three factions signed their agreement, the Ta’al party said in a statement that it would “continue in the Joint List based on the agreements and political platform signed when the list was established,” and added that “whoever does not want to continue in the Joint List, he chose his own path.”

Abbas’s former Joint List colleagues see him as providing aid and comfort to a prime minister who they say has conducted a campaign of racist incitement against Arab Israelis.

After the announcement Wednesday, a Ra’am official said, “We want Joint List voters not to face a Pandora’s box, but to know exactly what they will get from us,” adding that “the only goal lying before us is to strengthen the political power of the Arab voter and bring it to bear for his own advantage and in order to achieve his rights.”

Joint List factions: Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al sign an agreement for the March elections on February 3, 2021. (Courtesy: Joint List)

As an alliance of four Arab-led factions, the Joint List was united mainly by a desire to avoid falling below the Knesset’s electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote. The parties spanned the gamut of political opinion, ranging from Hadash’s committed communists to Ra’am’s conservative Islamists.

Last March, high turnout among Arab Israelis swept the Joint List to the strongest-ever showing in the Knesset for their constituency — a record 15 seats. But after a year of successive political blows, internal division and precious few policy achievements, they face rising voter apathy and widespread frustration among their base.

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