As election deadline looms, Arab parties struggle to merge lists

Two weeks before the deadline for factions to submit their slates to the Central Elections Committee on August 1,  the four largest Arab-majority parties have yet to reach a final agreement to reconstitute the Joint List, which split into two slates before last April’s national vote.

The four factions — Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad — have expressed urgency about once again forming a unified list for the upcoming elections following the dramatically low turnout of Arab Israelis in the last vote, but they have struggled to reach a consensus on the makeup of a slate.

Many analysts have said the parties’s failure to revive the Joint List ahead of the last elections led to lower Arab turnout at the polls. The Israel Democracy Institute estimated Arab turnout in last April’s elections at 49.2%; it said some 63.5% of Arab Israelis cast ballots in the March 2015 national vote.

The parties vowed in a joint statement in mid-June to run as a single list and later authorized the Reconciliation Committee, a group of Arab academics, local leaders and other personalities, to put together a slate on their behalf.

“We give the Reconciliation Committee the mandate to form the Joint List’s slate for the Knesset elections,” said the document the four parties signed on June 28. “We pledge to accept and agree without objection to what the Reconciliation Committee decides.”

But shortly after the Reconciliation Committee unveiled how it decided to build a list with candidates from the four parties, Balad and Ta’al registered objections, putting an official announcement of the re-creation of the Joint List on hold, Mustafa Kabha, the body’s spokesman, said, declining to elaborate.

The Reconciliation Committee, which was formed in 1993 to deal with political disputes within the Arab community, decided part of the makeup of the Joint List when it ran for the Knesset in 2015.

The Joint List won 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset in 2015. In April, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad separately won a total of 10 seats.

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka suggested that the Reconciliation Committee’s list gave his party less than it deserves.

“Balad has a political program that we want to implement,” Zahalka said. “We will not accept a reduction of its status. We are not concerned about seats but rather making sure we can advance what we believe is right.”

He said that Balad would like the Reconciliation Committee to move his faction’s Mazen Ghnaim, whom it granted slot 13 on its list, to 12.

A spokesman for Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi did not respond to requests for comment.

Hadash Secretary-General Mansour Dahamshe said that he found demands to change what the Reconciliation Committee decided unacceptable.

“We all signed a document that said we will commit to whatever decision the Reconciliation Committee makes,” Dahamshe said. “We need to stand by that commitment.”

Both Zahalka and Dahamshe said the four parties intend to continue to hold discussions to reestablish the Joint List in the coming days.

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