A bloc of Arab parties has split in less than four years ahead of Israel’s fifth election, a move that could weaken the minority’s political clout and aid the return of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power.
The Arab nationalist Balad party will act separately from the other two parties on the joint list in the November vote. If it fails to meet the minimum threshold, Balad would not get into the next parliament and his votes would essentially be wasted.
The divisions could also dampen the general turnout among Israel’s Arab minority, who make up 20% of the population. That would help Netanyahu, who wants to form a coalition with Jewish ultranationalists.
Balad’s head Sami Abou Shahadeh said it was the other two Arab parties, Hadash and Ta’al, who deserted him just hours before the deadline late Thursday for submitting electoral lists. He accused them of jettisoning his party to ally with a centrist bloc led by interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“We saw them announce the list on television without us,” he said in a Facebook video released Friday. “I think it’s clear that it was a political decision.”
Ahmad Tibi, the leader of Ta’al, said they wanted to act as a joint list again. “It didn’t work out, and that’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a big challenge for all of us to increase attendance.”
When asked whether the smaller Joint List would support Lapid as prime minister, Tibi said “the issue of recommendations is for later”.
“I’m not even sure we’ll get to that point,” he added.
Arab parties prevented Netanyahu from returning to power in recent elections, and in 2020 a combined list of four parties showed its best yet, with 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset and the third-largest bloc in the meeting.
Last year, the Islamist Ra’am party broke from the Joint List. It won just four seats but made history by joining the governing coalition, a first for any Arab faction. Without Ra’am, the Joint List won just six seats in last year’s elections.
Israel’s Arab citizens have close family ties to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Jewish Israelis to view them with suspicion. Arab citizens have made great strides in medicine and other fields in recent decades, but still face widespread discrimination.
The November 1 elections, like the last four, are expected to be a hard-fought race between former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and a constellation of parties across the political spectrum who believe he is unfit to rule. .
Israeli elections are competitions between multiple political parties, none of which have ever achieved an absolute majority. Prospective prime ministers must form coalitions with at least 61 seats in the Knesset.
Breaking up the Joint List appears to benefit Netanyahu by weakening the influence of his sharpest opponents. Netanyahu has long labeled Arab leaders fifth column and made accusations of racism, though he sought Ra’am’s support after last year’s hard-fought elections.
Without Balad’s hardline, the other two parties would be more open to joining a coalition led by Lapid, a center-left politician and Netanyahu’s main opponent. However, it is unclear whether Lapid’s potential right-wing allies would accept such an alliance.
Recent polls predict a hard-fought race between Netanyahu and Lapid, with each political camp struggling to rally a majority. If both fail, the country will go to elections again.