Israel’s Arab parties unite, could help Netanyahu rivals


Four political parties that mostly represent Israel's Arab minority have decided to run together in elections on March 17, creating a potential counter-weight to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies.

Opinion polls suggest the united Arab list could secure 11 seats in the 120-seat parliament, around the same level as they hold individually but with their political influence increased.

The joint slate, finalised on Thursday, was in part a bid for electoral survival since the government has backed legislation raising the threshold for getting into parliament, leaving two of the four parties on the brink of extinction.

The four – Raam (United Arab List), Taal (Arab Movement for Renewal), Balad (National Democratic Assembly) and Arab-Jewish party Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) – cover a range of ideology from Islamist to secular to ex-Communist.

Despite that, Raam lawmaker Masud Ganaim said the list was united in its support for Palestinian statehood and concern about Netanyahu's efforts to enshrine Jewish statehood in law.

“The Arab community in Israel wants us all to join forces, so we can have more influence and challenge the Netanyahu government's racist and Judaizing policies,” he told Reuters.

Pre-election polls put Netanyahu's Likud party neck-and-neck with the centre-left alliance of Labour leader Isaac Herzog and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Who gets to form the next government could come down to who garners more partners.

Ganaim said his four-party list may back Herzog and Livni.

“It is being considered,” he said. “We think the political map will shift toward the centre-left, and in such a situation we will have an important role. We would tilt the balance.”

Arabs, mostly Muslim, make up 20 percent of Israel's population. Ganaim said some 55 percent of them take part in national elections, with more than 80 percent of votes going to Arab parties while a minority back mainstream “Zionist” parties.

Balad leader Jamal Zahalka deemed the four-party list a rebuke to ultra-nationalist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has sought to sideline Arab politicians he deems disloyal to the state.

“Those who didn't want Arab parties to have 10 seats in parliament will see them get 15,” Zahalka told Israel radio.

Lieberman's Israel Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party, hit by corruption probes and high-profile resignations, is seen taking around 6 parliamentary seats – down from its current 12.

Netanyahu could still find a potent future ally in Economy Minister Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party, which is predicted to win some 15 seats.

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