Israeli-Arab merger

Nationalist Balad party announces it will run on Joint Arab List in elections

Decision marks official reconstitution of coalition of the four Arab-majority parties that split into two alliances before last national vote in April

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh (C) leads the party's weekly faction at the Knesset, October 31, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh (C) leads the party's weekly faction at the Knesset, October 31, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Balad party announced late Sunday that it will run for Knesset in the upcoming elections on a unified slate with the three other largest Arab-majority parties in Israel, officially reconstituting the Joint (Arab) List, which split into two rival factions ahead of April’s national vote.

Balad, an Arab nationalist party, made the declaration a day after Hadash, Ta’al and Ra’am, the three other Arab-majority factions, announced they would run together on a single slate in the September 17 election.

“The Balad Central Committee decided Sunday evening to run in the upcoming Knesset elections as a part of the Joint List,” Balad said in a statement.

The Joint (Arab) List was formed ahead of the March 2015 national elections after the Knesset raised the electoral threshold, increasing the percentage of votes a party must win to earn a seats in the 120-seat parliament from 2 to 3.25 percent. 

The united party, which included socialists, nationalists, secularists and Islamists, won 13 seats in those elections, becoming one of the largest factions in the opposition.

In last April’s vote, however, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad separately won a total of 10 seats.

MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi react after submitting a joint list of candidates from their Hadash and Ta’al parties to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on February 21, 2019. (Hadash)

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said on Sunday that his party accepted a revised version of a proposal formulated by the Reconciliation Committee, a group made up of Arab academics, local leaders and other personalities, regarding the reconstitution of the Joint List.

In late June, Balad, Hadash, Ta’al and Ra’am authorized the Reconciliation Committee to put together a united slate on their behalf. But Balad and Ta’al objected to its offer and demanded that the 12th slot on the slate, which it gave to Hadash, be transferred to their respective parties, a source with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Ta’al later said it accepted the Reconciliation Committee’s proposal “despite all of its reservations” about it.

Zahalka told The Times of Israel the amended version of the Reconciliation Committee’s offer gives Balad the 2nd, 8th and 13th slots on the unified list and he said the four parties agreed to it after holding “intensive discussions.”

The original proposal gave Balad the 4th, 8th and 13th slots.

The Balad chief also said an overwhelming majority of 26 members of the Balad Central Committee voted in favor of accepting the modified version of the Reconciliation Committee’s proposal; he said one voted against doing so and another abstained.

In its statement, Balad said it made the decision “despite the Central Committee’s conclusion that the new formulation [of the Joint List] does not reflect Balad’s political strength and position.”

The statement added that the move was based on the “the need to increase Arab parliamentary representation in a unifying framework that represents the wishes of the majority of our people” in Israel.

An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot at a voting station during municipal elections, in Kafr Qasim, on October 30, 2018. Roy Alima/Flash90)

Arab Israeli voters turned out in dramatically lower numbers for April’s vote compared to that of 2015.

Many analysts have said the failure of the four Arab-majority parties to revive the Joint List in the last elections led to lower Arab turnout. The Israel Democracy Institute estimated Arab turnout in April at 49.2 percent, compared to some 63.5% of Arab Israelis who cast ballots in the March 2015 national vote.

Hadash MK Ayman Odeh said that he welcomes Balad’s decision, adding that “a large Joint List will wield greater influence than it has in the past in helping disadvantaged groups and working toward ending the occupation and [instituting] an equal society.”

Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas described Balad’s decision as “wise” and said “we salute it.”

Early Monday morning, Balad said in a separate statement that it would host a press conference at its headquarters in Nazareth at noon.

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