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‘No Likud in the Joint List,’ say Arab MKs, as talks with renegade member falter

Bloc has come under considerable strain in recent months as Ra’am faction leader Mansour Abbas has pushed for normalizing ties with Netanyahu

(R-L) Joint List MK Mtanes Shihadeh, President Reuven Rivlin and Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi during a meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
(R-L) Joint List MK Mtanes Shihadeh, President Reuven Rivlin and Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi during a meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A meeting between the heads of all four Arab parties that make up the Joint List ended without a breakthrough on Sunday night, increasing the likelihood that the alliance will fall apart before the coming election.

The talks — the first four-way meeting between party leaders since new elections were called for March — were hosted by former Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, who currently directs the Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee. Barakeh said that the talks dealt with “the relationship between the Arab parties and the government,” without elaborating.

“It was not an easy conversation. There will be further discussion and meetings in the coming days. I hope we can move forward, but it’s too early to say whether it will succeed or not,” Barakeh said in a phone call.

Beyond a shared national identity, the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-led factions from across the political spectrum, is united mainly by a desire to avoid falling below the Knesset’s 3.25 percent electoral threshold. The parties span the gamut of political opinion, ranging from Hadash’s committed communists to Ra’am’s conservative Islamists.

The bloc has been under strain in recent months, as Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas has publicly expressed a desire to normalize ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Abbas has said that in order to advance legislative priorities for the Arab community, he would even consider voting in favor of a law providing Netanyahu with immunity from prosecution in his corruption cases, or serve as a minister in a Likud-led government.

Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party holds a press conference after a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Abbas has argued that his faction is presenting a new, can-do approach in Arab Israeli politics. But his Joint List colleagues see him as collaborating with a prime minister who they say has long incited against Arab Israelis.

“Joining, aiding or abetting the right-wing government, annexation, or settlements are a red line from our perspective. We won’t allow a branch of the Likud party in the Joint List,” Hadash said in a statement on Monday.

In a statement, a Ra’am spokesperson said that they had demanded that the other parties refrain from voting in ways that “damage the religious and conservative identity of Arab society.” The statement was a thinly veiled jab at Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, who voted along with two of his colleagues in Hadash in favor of a law banning so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBT people.

Ra’am further demanded total freedom in its voting — including the freedom to vote for Netanyahu’s immunity from prosecution. The other three parties had previously stipulated that the faction stick to the Joint List’s decisions.

A second four-way meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday night, Barakeh said.

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