Arab parties unite to counter the Israeli right

Arab parties unite to counter the Israeli right
Arab political parties hope the new, unified list running for the Knesset elections will counter the rising power of the Israeli extreme right.
5 min read
24 January, 2015
Zubi said the agreement was historic in every sense of the word [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty]

The Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset, and the 1948 Palestinians in general, are satisfied with the historic agreement these parties signed to run a unified list in the Knesset elections slated for 17 March. This list will be the fourth force in the Knesset if the Arab electorate meets expectations of a 65-70 percent turnout. This is especially true as these parties managed to unite after a large part of the 1948 Palestinian community has been calling for unity for years, and after many leaders stressed the importance of this unity. This unity was not, however, easy to achieve given the different ideological orientations and assorted interests of each party, in addition to other factors.

In recent years, the Israeli establishment intensified plans against the Arab masses, pursuing a policy of persecution and racial discrimination against them. This, along with the raising of the Knesset electoral threshold, made unity inevitable to face the common destiny of the 1948 Palestinians based on a more solid foundation. If it achieves its goals successfully, and wins 15 seats, as many hope it would, this list will influence the decision-makers in Israel. It will also take advantage of a victory to bring about national reconciliation and serve the interests of the Arab citizens.

Arab citizens, 20 percent of the population, could prevent the right from returning to power.

Hanin Zuabi, a member of Knesset representing the National Democratic Assembly, said the agreement was "a historic achievement in every sense of the word." She added "the joint list is an existing reality, which takes us immediately to the next challenges, probably without feeling the weight of the achievements themselves."

Zuabi wrote on her Facebook page that, among the challenges were "to change the current political atmosphere, based on bigotry, hatred, and intense rivalry - in an election period shaping new rules of action based on respect, on accepting the others, and giving priority to political action over partisan rivalry."

The other challenge, she noted, was for "the weight of the achievement and the aspirations of the political street to materialise in a ballot power and give the greatest momentum possible to a list that can garner 15 seats, turning it into the fourth force in the Knesset."

Preventing the Israeli right from reassuming power

Ayman Odeh, secretary general of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and a candidate for its first seat, said he views the unified list as "an unprecedented event in an area previously marred by divisions, disputes and feuds."

Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, Odeh added "the only place from the ocean to the gulf where an ethnic group managed to reach a consensus despite numerous different ideologies is the Palestinians inside [Israel]; it is a great achievement."

He noted the Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population, could throw their full weight behind these elections and prevent the right from returning to power. "This right wing killed 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza," he said, and "undermined an already eroded democratic margin, deepened social gaps, targeted the 1948 Palestinians, destroyed villages in the Negev, and committed many other violations."

Odeh expressed optimism that the unified list would win 15 seats. He noted that "there should be a great effort to convince people and instil the hope that they can prevent the right wing from going back to power." He added that "the Arab citizens were dealt with many times as mere numbers, but today everyone should know that these people can change policies and prevent the radical right in Israel, which committed crimes on more than one level, from continuing its plans."

On the nature of the joint action, Odeh said: "We have many cases and have the ambition to develop the institutions of our people; there is no doubt this list will contribute to the foundations for a new stage and easing tension among the parties."

Leverage for the Arab citizens and institutions


This list is the beginning of a unified approach to our struggle.
Massoud Ghanayem.

In a conversation with al-Araby, Massoud Ghanayem, a Knesset member of the (southern) Islamic Movement, praised the joint list as "an important, historic event, for this is the first time unity has been achieved on this level."

He said "It has not happened before, neither on the popular nor on the parliamentary level; it is an unprecedented partnership among political forces in this context."

Ghanayem said the partnership "should not be limited to the Knesset, for the goal is not just to win the largest number of seats in the Knesset, as important as that may be."

According to Ghanayem, "It should rather have an impact on the entire Arab popular struggle and spread a spirit of fraternity and amicability in all Arab countries. It should encourage joint action on all levels; this is extremely important, especially at this stage, which is witnessing great challenges in the face of the Israeli establishment and Israeli governments."

He added that partnership "can have a positive impact on the follow-up committee to organise it in the best way possible, and it can be leverage for it; this list is the beginning of a unified approach in our struggle."

On the impact the raising of the electoral threshold for a party to enter the Knesset to 3.25 percent of the vote will have on the formation of this list, Ghanayem said: "Increasing the threshold was one of the important factors for unity; all parties have no choice but to combine with others in the elections."

Ghanayem said he expected the percentage of the vote to increase by 10 to 15 percent, which would mean they could win at least 15 seats. "We will become a big, strong bloc that can influence the decision-makers in Israel," he said. He explained that "a list like this might be a chance for us to create a safety net, or a barrier for a leftist government against the right wing."

He said: "This will help us achieve many of our people's demands; it can also help us rein in the radicalism of the right wing and the racist laws against us."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.