Depleted Arab alliance embraces potential kingmaker role after breakup of Joint List

Ayman Odeh predicts Hadash-Ta’al ‘will be the most important party’ after election if neither side has majority, though split from Balad largely seen as boon to Netanyahu’s bloc

Members of the Hadash and Ta'al factions register list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset, on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Hadash and Ta'al factions register list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset, on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance predicted his faction would be a major juggernaut in post-election coalition jockeying, after his erstwhile Joint List of Arab-led parties splintered into two separate slates Thursday night.

Hadash chief Ayman Odeh’s comments, following a surprise 11th-hour decision to split with the hardline Balad party and run only as an alliance with Ta’al, reflected the shifting political dynamics created by the divorce, even as analysts questioned whether Hadash-Ta’al would manage to secure enough votes to return to the Knesset and be a player.

“We will be the most important party the day after elections,” Odeh, head of communist Hadash, told the press after submitting the joint slate alongside Ta’al head Ahmed Tibi Thursday night. “Everyone will come to us and we’ll make them wait in line until they respect us and our constituency.”

However, the split is widely predicted to help ease Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s path back to power, with Balad predicted to fall well below the necessary 3.25% ballot threshold to enter the Knesset. That hurdle may also challenge Hadash-Ta’al, since voter turnout in Arab communities is predicted to fall to a historic low.

Both Hadash-Ta’al and Balad blamed each other for the split Thursday, which came as the sides apparently failed to reach terms over a rotational agreement for the sixth slot on the electoral ticket.

Balad leader Sami Abou Shehadeh told the Kan public broadcaster that his faction had conceded to all of Hadash-Ta’al’s demands, and claimed that they wanted to run independently.

Balad leader Sami Abou Shehadeh addresses the media after registering the party’s list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee, at the Knesset on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But both Odeh and Tibi said they had sought to unify.

“We really wanted to preserve the Joint List. Ta’al even wanted to keep the Joint List with [it’s pre-2021 original] four parties,” Tibi said. “But it wasn’t possible.”

The fracturing of the Joint List would appear to benefit Netanyahu by diluting the influence of his most strident opponents.

Without the hardline Balad, Hadash and Ta’al might be more open to joining a coalition led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main opponent. It’s unclear, however, whether Lapid’s potential right-wing allies would accept such an alliance.

Arab political parties have traditionally shied away from joining Israeli governments, and have not been seen as acceptable partners by the major parties.

But last year, the Islamist Ra’am Party split off from the Joint List to test the political waters from inside the government, saying that Arab communities were being left behind by politicians’ stubborn refusal to play ball. Ra’am won four seats in the 2021 election and eventually blazed a path into Lapid’s coalition, though the move did not come without controversy among the party’s base; it also opened the coalition’s right-wing parties to attack from Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc, which portrayed Ra’am as terror supporters.

Ra’am party members arrive to register their party for the upcoming elections at the Knesset, September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a possible hint that Hadash and Ta’al may be considering following Ra’am’s lead, Odeh late Thursday tweeted electoral math that appeared to place his faction as a possible kingmaker.

“The right-wing bloc — 59 seats. The center-left bloc — 55 seats. Hadash-Ta’al — six seats,” Odeh wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “The political reality that was created enables our list to have an influence and strongly demand that our issues be in the center.”

Odeh, who has headed the Joint List since it was formed in 2015, has watched as the alliance has crumbled. Having lost the Islamist Ra’am faction last year, it has now also shed Balad.

Analysts largely see the Joint List’s breakup as a boon to Netanyahu, with his right-wing religious bloc poised to benefit electorally from a failure of either Hadash-Ta’al or Balad, or both, to clear the threshold and get into the Knesset, especially if predictions of low Arab turnout come to pass.

However, results from two of the four elections Israel held between April 2019 and March last year suggest Balad may have had limited impact on driving turnout for the Joint List. In that first of those elections, separate slates of Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad picked up six and four seats, respectively. In the elections last year, Ra’am got four seats running alone while the alliance of Hadash, Ta’al and Balad received six seats — the same overall result of 10 seats for the Arab lists as the April 2019 election, even though Ra’am was independent.

Polls prior to the split generally had Netanyahu’s bloc finishing as the largest in the elections, but falling just short of a Knesset majority in an outcome that would further extend Israel’s political gridlock.

AP contributed to this article.

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