Jamal Zahalka on Saturday opened his party’s primaries by declaring that Balad “is not part of the Israeli left, but is an inseparable part of the Palestinian national movement,” the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Zahalka, who is chairman of the Arab party but is not running for reelection, also called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to lift sanctions on Hamas in Gaza and to end security coordination with Israel. He also condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a war criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands,” according to Kan.
The Balad chairman criticized Netanyahu rival and Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, saying the former IDF chief of staff holds views which are as extreme as those of the prime minister, and only criticizes Netanyahu on matters of corruption.
Zahalka also slammed MK Ahmad Tibi, without mentioning his name, saying that those who split the Arab Joint List faction will be “punished” on election day.
The event in the northern city of Nazareth opened with a rendition of the Palestinian anthem and heard greetings from former lawmaker Azmi Bishara, who left Israel in 2007 as he was being investigated for allegedly spying for Hezbollah, and ex-lawmaker Basel Ghattas, who is serving a prison sentence for smuggling contraband to Palestinian security prisoners in an Israeli jail.
Balad currently holds four of the Joint List’s 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Mtanes Shihadeh on Saturday secured the first spot on Balad party Knesset ticket, ahead of the general election on April 9.
When asked to respond to Zahalka’s words about Balad being part of the Palestinian national movement, Shihadeh concurred, telling the Times of Israel late Saturday that Balad is “one branch of the many branches of the Palestinian national movement.”
Shihadeh added that “Balad supports the establishment of a Palestinian state next to a state for all of its citizens,” before further clarifying that, “we don’t support two states for two peoples. We support the establishment of a Palestinian state next to a state for all of its citizens.”
When asked about a one-state solution, Shihadeh said Balad has not changed its position and that “Israel is the one working for one state.”
Earlier in the day, Shihadeh referred to controversial legislation passed last year defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which has been labeled discriminatory by minority groups.
“We will emphasize a state for all its citizens as a substitute for the nation-state law,” he said.
Shihadeh told Kan that his first priority was to prevent the disintegration of the Joint List, and that he would work to prevent narrow interests from dividing it.
Sixteen candidates were running to secure spots on Balad’s slate, and were chosen by 594 party committee members in Nazareth.
The second place on the slate was taken by Hibba Yazik.
In the outgoig Knesset, Balad’s four MKs were Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi, Joumah Azbarga and Neven Abu Rahmoun.
Zahalka and Zoabi had recently announced they would not run for reelection. The departure of the two firebrands has been welcomed by some Jewish lawmakers, who have accused them of acting against the nation from within the legislature.
Zoabi has in the past called for the dissolution of the State of Israel and has sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. She has become a favorite target of the Israeli right over her constant stream of controversial comments throughout the years, including calling IDF soldiers “murderers” and other similar rhetoric.
It is not yet clear how the four parties making up the Joint List will run in the upcoming elections. Tibi has announced his Ta’al party will run separately from the others, and it’s possible for the Joint List to fragment further. However, talks between Ta’al, Ra’am, Hadash and Balad are ongoing.
On Friday, Hadash reelected Ayman Odeh as its chairman. Odeh also leads the Joint List. MK Aida Touma-Suleiman was chosen for the second spot on the Hadash party ticket, while Ofer Kassif placed third. Kassif is currently the only Jewish candidate on the mostly Arab party’s list, after Dov Khenin announced his resignation from politics last month.