AMMAN: A bloc of Arab parties has split ahead of Israel’s November elections – a move that could dilute the minority’s political clout and bolster hopes of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.
The Arab nationalist Balad party will run separately from the other two Joint List parties in the legislative elections.
The November 1 poll is expected to be a fierce competition between Netanyahu and a constellation of parties across the political spectrum.
But the Balad faction’s last-minute decision to split from the Joint Arab List could play into Netanyahu’s favor.
Balad, also known as Tajamu and led by Sami Abu Shehadeh, submitted a separate list for the November 1 elections.
Abu Shehadeh, a member of Knesset and head of the Balad list, told Arab News that he was confident the party could pass the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
However, Botrus Mansour, a Nazareth-based lawyer and observer of the Arab political map in Israel, isn’t so sure.
“Balad has a slim chance of crossing the threshold. Based on estimates, the 3.25% threshold requires around 140,000 votes,” he said.
Polls and general estimates suggest that Balad cannot earn more than half that number.
Explaining the last-minute withdrawal, Balad supporters said they had signed an agreement with Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) and its leader Ayman Odeh on ideological issues and seat allocation, but have accused the party of reneging on the agreement and pushing for a rotation of the sixth seat.
Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the International Consultation Center, told Arab News that Balad had a slim chance of sending one of its members to the Knesset.
“They are entering a race before the election on their own at a very late stage, less than two months before Election Day. The second reason is that the dominant discourse within the Arab population has shifted inwards.
The Haifa-based analyst told Arab News that while Palestinian and pan-Arab discourse has been the focus of Palestinian citizens in Israel over the past decades, they have other priorities today.
“The speech is focused on national issues and less on Palestinian issues, which means they (Balad) won’t be able to garner the kind of votes they need.”
Observers are unsure how the split will affect the already expected low voter turnout, which is expected to be around 40%.
“The new split will add to the frustration and desperation, combined with the general mood of helplessness due to the lack of change towards the Arabs of Israel from the current government. Therefore, and without drastic change, the percentage of votes is likely to decrease,” Mansour said.
But Abu Nassar thinks the Balad split could have a different effect on turnout.
“On the one hand, the competition will be tougher and each faction will invest more time. On the other hand, more people will be angry, so I think the split will have a limited impact on turnout.
If Balad fails to cross the threshold, the potential waste of around 70,000 Arab votes could help the Netanyahu bloc.
Abu Nassar said Netanyahu’s chances had “significantly improved”.
However, he added that “the game is not over yet because things are not clear on the right wing,” referring to possible scenarios between Netanyahu and the far-right against interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s blocs. and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Mansour believes that if the Netanyahu bloc is unable to secure the necessary 61 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, Balad’s absence will make it easier for Ayman Odeh and Ta’al party leader Ahmad Tibi to support the Lapid/Gantz alliance.
“If Balad is not in the Joint List, the chances of joining a governing coalition will now be easier, especially since that line has already been crossed by Islamist leader Mansour Abbas,” he said. .