Israel's Arab Joint List splits ahead of March vote

Israel's Arab Joint List splits ahead of March vote
Israel's Joint List confirmed its partial split as it submitted candidates for next month's election.
2 min read
05 February, 2021
A Balad Party billboard reads "Now Netanyahu turned around, wanting Arab votes? He wishes!" [AFP]

Israel's Joint List, a mainly Arab grouping that secured its biggest-ever vote share in elections last year, confirmed its partial fracture Thursday as it submitted candidates for next month's vote.

Its final candidate roster submitted to parliament for the March election - Israel's fourth in less than two years - shows the Joint List running separately from its former member the Raam party, a conservative Islamic movement headed by Mansour Abbas. 

The split could impact the Joint List's performance following an election last year when it secured an unprecedented 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

That result, which boosted the Joint List's status in the parliamentary bloc opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also highlighted the growing political strength of an Arab community that makes up roughly 20 percent of Israel's nine-million population. 

Divisions in the Joint List boiled to the surface late last year when Abbas, a deputy speaker in Israel's now-collapsed coalition government, made several moves seen as favourable to Netanyahu.

That triggered condemnation from Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, head of the Hadash party, which has communist roots. 

The upcoming March election was triggered by the collapse of a short-lived coalition led by the right-wing Netanyahu and his centrist rival, Defence Minister Benny Gantz. 

In that election, the Joint List will include Odeh's bloc, the Taal party led by prominent Arab leader Ahmed Tibi and the Arab nationalist Balad party.

Raam filed to run as its own party.

Odeh told reporters the Joint List would "do everything possible" to top its 15 seat tally, despite the absence of Raam.

But a poll released Thursday by the Ma'ariv newspaper shows the Joint List taking just 10 seats in the March vote with Raam excluded from the grouping.  

Netanyahu, who has repeatedly been accused of demonising Israel's Arab citizens, has in recent weeks made a series of overtures to the community, promising investment and anti-crime measures.

Political experts say he is in part trying to sow division among his opponents to aid his re-election battle.  

A separate survey released Thursday by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank showed that 66 percent of Israel's Arab community thinks "Netanyahu's recent efforts to forge ties with the Arab public are insincere," an IDI statement said. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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