‘Nonsense’: Yesh Atid denies involvement in breakup of Joint List

‘We have no idea who spread this nonsense or why,’ Lapid’s party says after Balad chief accused PM of orchestrating Arab-majority alliance’s split

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a campaign event for his Yesh Atid party in Tel Aviv, September 13, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a campaign event for his Yesh Atid party in Tel Aviv, September 13, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party on Saturday denied any role in the breakup of the Joint List, after one of its former leaders blamed the premier for the Arab-majority alliance’s dissolution.

“Yesh Atid and Prime Minister Yair Lapid were not involved in the split of the Joint List and we have no idea who spread this nonsense or why,” Yesh Atid wrote on its official Twitter page.

The Joint List’s split into separate slates came shortly before Thursday night’s deadline for parties to register their candidates. The three subfactions that comprised the Joint List — Hadash, Ta’al and Balad — had agreed to again run together a day before, but Balad reversed its decision to join the alliance in an 11th-hour move after a dispute over sharing one of its spots on the Knesset slate with Hadash and Ta’al.

The move caught Israel’s political system off guard, with analysts noting it would likely boost opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc if either Hadash-Ta’al or Balad fails to clear the minimum vote threshold. Some observers argued it could benefit Lapid, as Hadash-Ta’al could recommend he form a government after the November 1 vote now that the hardline Arab nationalist Balad is running alone.

Two snap polls on Friday night gave the Netanyahu-led bloc 60 seats, just one short of a Knesset majority. Both polls gave Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al 4 seats each, dangerously close to the threshold, and both showed Balad falling far short of clearing the threshold.

In an interview Friday, Balad chairman Sami Abou Shahadeh claimed the heads of Hadash and Ta’al broke their agreement at the last minute, forcing his party to run alone, while accusing Lapid of orchestrating the move.

“I have no other explanation,” he told Channel 12 news, without providing any evidence. “There was a decision, apparently including Lapid, to destroy Balad.”

A source from Hadash-Ta’al also described Balad’s casting of Lapid in the role of puppet master as “ludicrous.”

Members of the Balad party register their list for the upcoming elections at the Knesset on September 15, 2022. Party leader Sami Abou Shehadeh is second from right. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Though Yesh Atid denied any link to the Joint List’s breakup, some in the centrist party appeared to welcome the move.

“I’m not sorry that Balad left,” top Yesh Atid member Meir Cohen told a cultural event in Beersheba, citing comments made by Abou Shahadeh against Israel.

“It’s their issue. It’s their argument,” he added when asked whether Lapid was involved.

He also predicted Yesh Atid would not work with Joint List after the elections, whether in seeking the party’s support for a potential coalition or other forms of political cooperation.

Welfare Minister Meir Cohen speaks during a conference at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The upcoming election will be the first time since 2013 that there will be three separate Arab parties running. Then, Ra’am and Ta’al ran together on a united slate and won four seats while Balad and Hadash ran separately and earned three and four seats, respectively.

Ahead of the 2015 election, all four parties agreed to run on a joint slate for the first time, after right-wing lawmakers voted to raise the electoral threshold in an attempt to oust the Arab parties from the Knesset. The Joint List overwhelmingly exceeded expectations, winning 13 seats and becoming the third biggest party in the Knesset.

In April 2019, the party split again, with Ra’am-Balad winning just four seats on their own and Hadash-Ta’al winning six seats — drops that indicated that the Arab public supports a united political front.

In 2019’s second election and in the subsequent election in 2020, the four parties agreed to reunite as the Joint List and had strong performances, winning 13 and 15 seats respectively, thanks to record-high Arab turnout.

Members of the Hadash and Ta’al factions register their list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset, on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the 2021 election though, Ra’am decided to break away from the Joint List, arguing that a more practical approach was necessary and that the Arab public needed representatives who prioritized domestic affairs for Arab Israeli over the Palestinian issue. The Joint List won six seats that year and the Islamist party managed to win four. With Thursday’s further splintering of the Joint List into Hadash-Ta’al and Balad, Ra’am is hoping to build on that total come November.

But with turnout in the disillusioned Arab sector predicted to drop to record lows, all three parties may be at risk of failing to cross the electoral threshold.

Jack Mukand contributed reporting to this piece.

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