Now that the Islamic Movement has said that it is leaving the Joint Arab List, we can officially declare: After increasing the number of its mandates, yet losing much of its influence, the Joint List is finished.
Ra’am, headed by Knesset member Mansour Abbas, is splintering the Joint Arab List amid its clash with Hadash over who the next faction chairman will be, but also over questions of loyalty to Islamic values, and mainly over the party’s cooperation with the current elected government.
What’s interesting is that over the past 24 hours, MK Ahmad Tibi has maintained contact with MK Abbas and both of them spoke for hours before the representatives of the four Arab parties comprising the Joint Arab List faction met. This could be seen as an indication that the Islamic Movement’s resignation from the Joint List is not the last one.
The acute political and personal crises afflicting the Joint List these past two years, the lack of coordination and the stark contrast of character between the faction’s various components have led to the dismal approval ratings. From the ill-fated recommendation of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form the coalition after the last election, to the public and discreet negotiations between the Islamic Movement and senior Likud officials, the Arab-Israeli public is flashing warning signals to the leaders of the faction’s four parties. This is clearly discernible in recent polls, which point to the Joint Arab List assuredly losing around one-third of its parliamentary power.
Now, when it appears that at least two Arab lists will run in the upcoming election, Arab representation in the next Knesset likely won’t reach 10 seats. With that, however, the split can be of benefit in crystallizing the competition between the two parties, and allow each the space to maneuver in terms of the pragmatic and effective dialogue it chooses to pursue with the individual tabbed to form the next coalition. Ten MKs who conduct smart negotiations with the future coalition can have a far greater impact than 15 MKs working on the political fringes as an opposition within the opposition.
Although many people believed that a resolution would ultimately be attained (full disclosure, as did I), the stench of disintegration was palpable. In recent months, the Joint List’s public-relations operations seem to have ground to a halt. And the faction’s members have been so busy day and night hurling mutual accusations at one another that the majority of the Arab public doesn’t appear to have noticed.
The announcement of the rift was swiftly followed by mutual mudslinging. Members of the Islamic Movement are trying to pull the argument in a religious and ethnic direction, while members of Hadash and Balad will harp on the Islamic Movement’s lack of patriotism and its coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Beyond reducing Arab representation in the next Knesset, the current situation could also incentivize the Zionist parties, mainly from the right, to “pounce” on Arab voters in an attempt to siphon mandates, while the two (or more) Arab factions bicker among themselves.
The leaders of the Zionist parties, from the left but primarily from the right, are likely to discover, through the polls they conduct in the coming days, that their public-relations efforts and fieldwork in Arab communities could very well pay dividends—perhaps even beyond the initial prognostications.
No, this won’t necessarily derive from ideological affinity or rapprochement, but from disappointment in the Arab parties, a “punitive” vote against them, but no less important: a desire to directly influence the decision-makers.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.