Muhammad Hudhud, JHU:
Before Tuesday, one might have thought that the Joint Arab List had the potential to become the leading opposition bloc in the Knesset, assuming MK Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union joined the PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud coalition, or vice versa. Herzog however, has ruled out that possibility, as he announced that he will remain the Leader of the Opposition . Still, the Joint List has not ruled out working with the opposition. Winning 13 out of 120 Knesset seats, the Joint Arab List cannot be sidelined as they had been previously as individual parties. The party includes two women (one of which is an incumbent) and several new MKs. While the Joint List did not achieve its goal of unseating Netanyahu this election term, the increasingly polarized political climate has actually helped the Palestinians and their Jewish allies unite for the first time ever. That is to say, Palestinian parties have attempted to run on joint tickets in the past, but they have been generally unsuccessful, often breaking out into smaller factions. However this time, they managed to not only stay together, but attract Jewish counterparts in order to have their most successful election yet. But who comprises the Joint List, and what does this unification mean for Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish Israelis moving forward?
The Joint List is made up of four parties, ranging from religious to secular ideologies. Hadash, the oldest of the four by far, is a Jewish-Arab mixed party. Apart from supporting a two-state solution, Hadash promotes equality between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel . Founded by current MK Ahmad Tibi, Ta’al is a secular, Arab party that also supports a two-state solution and equality between all Israeli citizens. Ta’al has consistently run on jointly with other parties since it’s founding in 1996 . Balad supports the right of return for Palestinians as stipulated in UN Resolution 194, and the separation of ‘church and state.’ Balad subsequently rejects the Jewish State Bill, advocating for a two-state solution with pre-1967 borders . Ra’am, or the Islamic Movement in ’48 Palestine, is probably the least known of the four parties. The Movement traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, but has assumed a distinct Palestinian identity in recent decades .
The Joint List marks the largest unification of Palestinian parties, and has been unprecedentedly popular with Palestinians not only living in Israel but in Gaza and the West Bank (even if they cannot vote). In Israel, the Palestinian voter turnout surged from 56% in 2013 to 65% in the most recent elections, it’s highest since 1999 . In the days coming up to the election, Fatah called on Palestinian citizens of Israel to support the Joint List, and Hamas’ military wing Ezzedeen Al-Qassam even tweeted a flurry of messages of urging Palestinians to vote as the election was underway .
The chairman of the Joint List, as referred to in the tweet, is Ayman Odeh, a lawyer by training and leader of Hadash. Odeh grew up in the Arab-Jewish mixed city of Haifa, Odeh is fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew. For most of his political career, he has focused on the inequalities that the Palestinian minority in Israel faces, as well as fighting against the demolition of Bedouin homes and villages in the Negev desert, the southern tip of Israel . While Ahmad Tibi has been an outspoken Palestinian member of the Knesset and is certainly well-known, Odeh has assumed the face of the ‘Arab politician’ almost instantly. That is to say, Odeh presents himself not as a nationalist, but as a citizen of Israel who promotes equality across ethnic and religious backgrounds. Such was a main reason why the smaller, Palestinian Druze sect community backed the Joint List . The Joint List’s goal then, is to, in the words of Odeh, “close [sic] civic gaps between Arabs and Jews. This programme aims at undoing the decades of systematic discrimination by the various governments of Israel in the allocation of resources and budgets, in the areas of housing, education, infrastructure, public transportation, et cetera” . Institutionally, that means that the Joint List will attempt to bring down right-wing agenda that has dominated Israeli politics in recent years.
With differing opinions of certain issues, the four parties certainly have to make an effort to stay a cohesive unit. The Joint List’s unity comes at a time in which Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Territories feel increasingly marginalized; in light of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and forced evictions in Jerusalem, one of the last ‘pieces of the puzzle’ for the Joint List’s formation came when Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman championed a bill through the Knesset raising the electoral threshold to 3.25% in 2013, effectively barring the Palestinian parties from entering the Knesset individually. Lieberman is the same minister who declared that the Palestinians citizens of Israel who were ‘disloyal’ to the State needed their heads to be cut off ? Even PM Netanyahu, desperate for last-minute votes, warned supporters that “the Arabs are going out in droves to vote, bused in by the left” . As if they come from the far stretches of the ends of the earth, Netanyahu seems to not care whether they are citizens or not. Folks, Israel isn’t even one-sixth the size of New York State—with well over 10,000 polling stations, where are they bussing in from again ?
The Joint List then, has the potential to be the antidote of the increasingly polar Israeli political sphere. It seeks not to be the leading party for the Arabs, but rather it presents itself as the alternative, championing the ideals of democracy, equality, and combating racism.