How the Palestinian Arab Community Will be Affected by the Early Elections

The United Arab List is closely following developments in the Joint List, hoping that it will disintegrate.

The upcoming early elections will have repercussions for the Palestinian Arab community in Israel and for the Palestinian people in general. The decision by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid to dissolve the Knesset and transfer the prime ministership to Lapid leaves the Palestinian Arab community ill-prepared for elections. In the last four election battles, Palestinian Arab voters recognize the political power they hold in the country. When the Joint List was united – that is, when it included all the major Palestinian Arab parties, namely the communist Hadash party, the secular-nationalist Balad and Ta’al parties, the Islamic United Arab List – about 65% of Palestinian Arab voters turned out to the ballot box. In the last elections, when the United Arab List split from the Joint List, Palestinian Arab voters punished the parties with only a 43% voter turnout. Opinion polls and research published in recent weeks indicate that the voter turnout in the upcoming elections will be similar. If the percentage is lower, it is expected that Palestinian Arab representation in the next Knesset will also decrease.

When voting to dissolve the Knesset last Wednesday, Palestinian Arab Knesset Members were seen wandering between the plenary and the canteen in the Knesset, most of whom had not set foot in their offices during the day. Some of them were seen with frowning faces, fearing for their political future.


Crucial Week


The decision of the coalition and the opposition to postpone the continuation of the vote on the dissolution of the Knesset until next week may give the two sides an opportunity to prepare and arrange the papers. Netanyahu is awaiting the return of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in order to try and persuade her to join him and establish a far-right government together. At the moment, he knows that he cannot count on the votes of the six members of the Joint List as support for his leadership of the government and the mandate to form a new government. Shaked is currently keeping silent.


The Joint List Knesset Members found themselves in the spotlight this week. The Knesset and the committees will continue to meet until the elections. This week, MK Ahmad Tibi presented a ready-made list of demands. The six Joint List Knesset Members are now a hot commodity. Until the elections are organized, the coalition will try to use them to pass budgets in the Finance Committee and even support some bills that are put to a vote in the general assembly.


Legislation Banning Criminal Suspects from the Prime Ministership and Banning Palestinian Flag


The head of the United Arab List (UAL), MK Mansour Abbas, is in no hurry to cut ties with Netanyahu. After declaring that he does not deny the possibility of joining a government headed by Netanyahu in the future, he is sending mixed messages about his party’s vote on the law aimed at preventing a criminal suspect from running for prime minister. Abbas and his party members are trying to signal to Netanyahu that they will be ready to join a future government. Even Netanyahu’s announcement that he will not use them to form a government does not frustrate them. They leave the door open to all possibilities.


The Joint List and UAL hope that the dissolution of the Knesset will prevent the enactment of the law prohibiting the raising of the Palestinian flag from moving forward. On the right, they will seek to pass this law in the coming weeks, hoping to put pressure on coalition members against Lapid.


State Budget


The biggest loss for the Palestinian Arab community as a result of early elections is the failure to pass the budgets that would finance Government Decision No. 550, which was taken last October. In 2022, government ministries were supposed to receive 5.5 billion shekels to develop infrastructure in Palestinian Arab towns. So far, funds have only been transferred to the Ministries of Construction and Housing, Social Welfare, and Environmental Protection and to the industrial zones. The rest of the money is stuck in the budgets section.


In the last two weeks, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been trying to pass requests from the Finance Ministry to the Finance Committee. The heads of Palestinian Arab local authorities have been waiting for over a year for budgets dedicated to building streets, building and planning industrial areas, developing health services, education, and sports, and they are feeling the pressure. They too will have elections in a little over a year. In the event that requests to transfer funds are not transferred to the Finance Committee, most of the planned projects will be suspended and frozen until the budget is approved. Lieberman is punishing MKs Mazen Ghanaim (UAL) and Ghaida Rinawi-Zoubi (Meretz) before dismantling the government, as well as over a fifth of the state’s citizens. This week will be a fateful week.


The Future of Knesset Members


With the dissolution of the Knesset, it can be concluded that the political future of some Palestinian Arab representatives has reached its end. MKs Mazen Ghanaim and Ghaida Rinawi-Zoubi have previously announced that they will resign from the Knesset and will not run again. Ghanaim is trying to distance himself from his fellow party members and Rinawi-Zoubi has found herself under widespread criticism from her Palestinian Arab colleagues at Meretz.


Joint List


There is great tension in the Joint List after opinion polls show it will only win six seats in the upcoming elections. The three parties comprising the Joint List – Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al – came out disappointed and frustrated after the previous elections. Hadash, the supposed de-facto leader of the Joint List, summed up the recent elections as a blatant failure, securing only three seats. That is a dismal performance compared to the five seats it won when the Joint List was formed in 2015.


The head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, was held responsible for the failure. He did not accept responsibility for himself and since the elections he has not missed any of the social events for the 500 members of the Hadash Council, who elect candidates to the Knesset. Odeh fears he might lose his position to former MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen. Sources in Hadash say Jabareen will likely lose to Odeh but will come out on top of MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, the only woman left in the Joint List. Jabareen feels the pulse but is in no hurry to announce his intention to run.


Aiming to gain seven seats in the upcoming elections, MK Odeh is trying to win over voters in the Negev. Over the weekend, businessman Ibrahim al-Nasara paid a visit, which caused a sensation among activists and heads of local councils aspiring to join the Joint List. None of the three Joint List parties have an active branch in Rahat – the second largest Palestinian Arab city.


Ta’al MKs fear their party leader MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi will demand that the Joint List push distinguished Knesset Member Osama Saadi to a lower seat in the electoral roser in order to introduce a candidate from the Negev to the Knesset. Tibi’s colleagues have made it clear that if Hadash works to make this change, they will not hesitate to dismantle the Joint List.


In the Hadash party, many claim that Balad, headed by Dr. Sami Abu Shehadeh, did not garner enough votes in the previous election to justify their party members’ positions in the electoral roster. MK Abu Shehadeh, too, is receiving indications from Hadash that they expect him to retreat to a later seat in the roster. Balad is preparing to hold primaries MK Abu Shehadeh will have to obtain the support of his party to protect his position in it.


The UAL is closely following developments in the Joint List, hoping that it will disintegrate.


United Arab List


MK Mazen Ghanaim intends to run for the mayor of Sakhnin, a position he held before becoming a Knesset Member in the previous elections. However, Ghanaim’s withdrawal and the treatment he received from party leader MK Mansour Abbas will have repercussions on the political future of UAL. The party drew support from over 10,000 voters in the Galilee, thanks to Ghanaim. With his withdrawal, it is not certain that the voters there will vote at the same rate for the UAL in the upcoming elections. At the same time, there is resentment and disappointment among voters in the Negev towards the UAL, especially after the passing of former MK Saeed Alkharumi. MK Abbas promised the Bedouin community that they would address their problems, but he has disappeared from them in recent months. After MK Iman Khatib-Yasin entered the Knesset instead of Alkharumi, the deputy mayor of Rahat, Atab Abu Madigham, was essentially shut out of the halls of the Knesset.


The continued demolition of homes in the Negev and the establishment of new Jewish towns at Interior Minister Shaked’s initiative caused great frustration among the Negev’s residents, who voted overwhelmingly for the UAL in the last elections, granting them nearly 50,000 votes. The low voter turnout in the Negev, coupled with residents’ disgruntlement with the UAL’s performance in addressing their demands, may put UAL’s four seats in the Knesset at jeopardy. Despite the difficult situation on the ground, most opinion polls predict that the party will pass the electoral threshold and enter the Knesset with four seats.


Meretz and the Labor Party


Meretz’s situation is very bad, as polls predict that it will not pass the threshold. Three of its Palestinian Arab Knesset Members – Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej and Knesset Members Ali Salalha and Ghaida Rinawi-Zoabi, did not hide the hostility between them over the past year. Frej and Salalha accused the head of the party, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, of importing the failed Rinawi-Zoabi for the sake of garnering Palestinian Arab support. Even before her rebellion within the party, they had claimed that she did not win any votes for Meretz in the elections.


The competition for the first four seats in Meretz will be intense. A number of Knesset Members, including Gaby Lasky, Mossi Raz, or even Michal Rosen, may pay the price as the party tries to appease one of the Palestinian Arab candidates. During the past year, Meretz has invested few resources in the Palestinian Arab community, so it is expected that it will receive a low number of votes in the elections.


As for the Labor Party, the party’s chairwoman brought in Palestinian Arab filmmaker and director Ibtisam Mara’neh ahead of the last elections to garner Palestinian Arab votes. Its Palestinian Arab members abandoned the Labor Party and did not work to recruit votes for the party in the last elections. Mara’neh is a resounding parliamentary failure, but she has served party leader and Minister of Transport and Road Safety Merav Michaeli well. It seems that the seven semi-guaranteed seats of the Labor Party will not push it to search for new votes in the Palestinian Arab community. Michaeli and her colleagues visited quite a few Palestinian Arab towns, but they did not succeed in bringing Palestinian Arab activists back into the party’s ranks.


Druze Arab Representatives


The Druze Arab MKs who were elected to the Likud lists, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Kahol-Lavan feel that their seats in the next Knesset are secured. MK Fateen Mulla will run in the Likud, MK Hamad Amar will run on the Yisrael Beiteinu ticket, and MK Mufid Mari will remain loyal to Kahol-Lavan’s leader Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. The three of them are considered close to the leaders of their parties and are most likely to retain their seats in the Knesset, as well as succeed in recruiting votes from the Arab Druze community for the three parties.


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