Israel’s Arab parties inched closer to a unity deal Saturday after a meeting of the socialist Hadash party ended in a decision to pursue negotiations on a merger with the Balad and Ra’am Ta’al parties.
During the meeting in Nazareth, Hadash, which has both Arab and Jewish members, decided to condition such a deal on the inclusion of Jews and women on the joint ticket, Haaretz reported Sunday.
Ahead of March’s Knesset elections, lawmakers from Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad have been hard at work overcoming their own deep ideological differences and constructing a shared “pan-Arab” list that might stand a better chance of passing the 3.25 percent electoral threshold passed into law last year.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) is the favorite in polls of Arab voters for leader of a new, unified slate, including in a recent poll conducted by Nazareth’s Arabic-language Kul al-Arab newspaper, where Tibi was favored by almost half of respondents.
Recent polls have predicted five Knesset seats for Hadash, which would put the party above the electoral threshold, albeit by a narrow margin, without requiring it to run jointly with the other Arab parties.
However, Haaretz reported, party officials fear that should they jeopardize the prospect of a unified slate, Arab voters will punish them on election day.
Hadash’s meeting in Nazareth was attended by Avraham Burg, a former member of Knesset for the Labor Party and speaker of the house.
Burg, who enrolled as a delegate, said that he would support Hadash in the upcoming elections and urged the party to remain distinct from the two nationalist Arab parties and promote a “powerful campaign by a Jewish-Arab list.”
“I left the Jewish national space because it became jingoistic, and I didn’t come all the way here just to connect with [Arab] jingoism,” said Burg, a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in an allusion to Balad and Ra’am Ta’al.
He called for “full solidarity” between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Reports in Hebrew-language media speculated as to whether Burg’s participation in the conference signaled that he was considering a second career in politics.
“Avraham Burg has joined the Hadash party,” a party official was quoted by the news site Ynet as saying.
“Perhaps in the coming days there will be further developments involving him,” the official added. “There is a chance that he’ll run [for a seat] with the party, but nothing can be finalized at this point, so long as there is no decision on unity among the Arab parties.”
In the outgoing Knesset, Hadash featured three Arab members — Mohammad Barakeh , Hana Sweid and Afu Agbaria – and a single Jewish one, Dov Khenin.
Burg, an Orthodox Jew, said that he had traveled to the conference on Shabbat, contravening a religious prohibition, because advancing solidarity between Jews and Arabs was “a matter of life and death” that trumped the ban.
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.