Israel’s Arab-majority political parties failed to sign surplus-vote sharing agreements before the deadline for submissions passed on Friday, giving an edge to the bloc of parties led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the November 1 election.
The Arab nationalist Balad party on Friday refused a request by Hadash-Ta’al to sign a deal. Balad is not expected to pass the 3.25% electoral threshold needed to win Knesset representation, according to opinion polling, meaning votes for the party will likely go to waste.
“Balad proved again that narrow interests are more important than working together against the occupation for full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel,” Hadash-Ta’al said in a statement, adding that the Arab community does not have the “privilege” of voting for an “irresponsible” faction.
In response, Balad accused Hadash-Ta’al of trying to sabotage its campaign and of smearing its chair, Sami Abou Shahadeh.
“We at Balad want this to be a civilized and moral competition free of fraudulent methods and attempts to interfere in the decisions of the public by inventing lies and rumors,” Balad said.
Hadash-Ta’al made no attempt to sign a vote-share agreement with the Islamic Ra’am party, after Ra’am broke off from the Joint List alliance of Arab parties before the previous election last year as it sought to join a governing coalition.
Hadash-Ta’al and Balad, which had remained united in the Joint List, split apart to run separately last month in a move expected to dilute Arab political representation.
Hadash-Ta’al and Balad firmly oppose Netanyahu’s bloc, and a weaker showing by the Arab parties will leave more seats up for grabs. The two factions are also not aligned with the bloc opposing Netanyahu.
Ra’am joined the so-called change government led by Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Yair Lapid last year, a historic first for an independent Arab party.
Polls have predicted Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc falling just short of a majority, and his opponents trailing behind, meaning a slight boost to a Netanyahu-allied party could put his bloc over the top and allow him to form a coalition.
Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes they win that don’t add up to a full Knesset seat do not go to waste. Instead, a party can transfer those votes to another party through a special agreement.
Under the law, the combined leftover votes go to the party in the agreement closest to winning another seat — and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making the votes potentially decisive in a tight race.
Such deals only count if both parties pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of all votes.
Lapid attempted to broker a deal between Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am up until the last minute, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
The prime minister held talks with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and Meretz party chief Zehava Galon, urging them to convince Hadash-Ta’al’s Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi to make an agreement.
Lapid’s associates expressed outrage over the failure to ink a deal, calling the parties’ conduct irresponsible, Kan reported.
Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, which opposes Netanyahu, also did not manage to sign a surplus deal with any other faction.
“Why didn’t we sign a surplus agreement with anyone? Because Yisrael Beytenu is the only one that doesn’t zig-zag and doesn’t blink and commits to forming a coalition without Bibi, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and to advance a free economy and free state,” Liberman tweeted, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname and to his ultra-Orthodox allies.
Meanwhile, parties loyal to Netanyahu all managed to sign such pacts to ensure their votes would not be wasted. Ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ agreed to a surplus deal and Likud and Religious Zionism inked an agreement.
Within the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Meretz and Labor agreed to share surplus votes while Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity signed a deal.
While Netanyahu has managed to ensure votes in his bloc are not wasted, including by having the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit, the anti-LGBTQ Noam and far-right Religious Zionism form a joint slate to make sure they clear the electoral threshold, Lapid has not been as successful.
The caretaker premier failed to unite the left-wing Meretz and center-left Labor, which are polling just above the electoral threshold.
The Joint List’s break up will also likely hurt Lapid. Although Hadash-Ta’al and Balad have refused to throw their weight behind Lapid, the prime minister’s failure to ensure the Arab factions remained together on a joint slate will almost certainly mean votes for Balad will not translate to seats, ultimately benefitting Netanyahu’s bloc.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.