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Split endangers Arab Knesset representation

Balad's decision to part from its Joint List partners Hadash and Ta’al might cost it dearly.

The Sept. 15 deadline for submitting party lists for the Nov. 1 Israeli elections was a day of high drama. The Joint List split at the last minute. Ahead of the last elections, the alliance lost one of its four partners when Ra’am under Mansour Abbas decided to run on its own ticket. This time, Balad decided to run alone. Now only Hadash and Ta’al will run together under the name of the Joint List.

The trigger for the Sept. 15 split was a dispute over the sixth spot on the list, reserved for Balad. The problem began when Knesset member Ahmad Tibi insisted that the seat go to his own Ta’al party. Balad refused to concede.

The breakup was perhaps not unexpected, as there were no direct three-way negotiations between the member parties of the Joint List. Negotiations were bilateral, with Hadash negotiating separately with Balad and Ta’al following disagreements and bad blood between the parties.

Recent surveys predict a record low turnout for Arab voters in the upcoming election. Thus, the split of the Joint List could have devastating implications for the number of Arab lawmakers in the next Knesset. Balad faces the risk of failing to pass the vote threshold.

It is a vicious cycle. One of the main reasons Arab voters seem reluctant to vote is the interminable feud between the member parties of the Joint List over Knesset seats. Arab-Israeli politicians know that Arab voters are disgusted by this competition, but evidently the knowledge did not stop the politicians from squabbling.

Seizing an opportunity, Abbas posted on Facebook that the main reason behind the split was “dishonesty with people and with partners to the point of treachery, throwing people into the unknown and putting at risk the size of Arab representation in the Knesset.” He went on to say that this is why Ra’am had originally decided to quit the Joint List. The party was tired of all the silly games being played under the table, he explained.

Of course, each side in the dispute blamed the others for the split. Both Tibi and Ayman Odeh from Hadash posted videos blaming what happened on Balad’s stubborn refusal to accept the rotation of one seat.

Meanwhile, Balad chair Sami Abu Shehadeh posted a video of his own. In “The whole truth for our people: You be the judge,” he explained that Balad had reached an agreement with Hadash on the Joint List’s final slate of candidates. Then, while he was taking a break in the Knesset cafeteria, his parliamentary aide rushed over to him to tell him that Hadash-Ta’al had gone to see the election committee on their own. He claimed that Prime Minister Yair Lapid himself was involved in the split, thinking that once Balad was out of the picture, he would be able to form a government with the support of Odeh and Tibi.

Lapid’s party Yesh Atid and the Hadash-Ta’al coalition both denied the rumors. Nevertheless, judging by the number of likes that each of the three videos received, it seems the Arab public believes Abu Shehadeh, who received more support than the other two candidates.

Yanal Jabarin, a social and political activist from the town of Umm al-Fahm, told Al-Monitor, “I expect voter turnout to exceed the numbers in recent polls, which come to around 38%. For me, the question is whether it will reach the rate of the last election, which was 44.6%. While that was low, I think more people will come out on election day than the pollsters believe."

He went on, “That being said, Balad could disappear. The Arab electorate is tired of the internecine feuding, so I would not be surprised if the [all Arab parties together] receive just eight seats, just like the Arab parties won in 2003. While I see a wave of solidarity with Balad, it is not at all clear that this will lead them past the electoral threshold.”

Hanin Majadl wrote in a column for Haaretz, “This could be Balad’s great moment. In just the few days since the Joint List split up, movement back to Balad is evident, even among people disappointed with the party and people who never voted for it before.”

Could the split actually lead to an increase in Arab turnout? A poll published by the Arab-language Makan suggested that since the Joint List split up, there have been signs that turnout among Arab voters could rise further than expected.

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