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Why won't the Arab parties just unite already?

Raising the Knesset threshold was a game-changer, and now the Arab parties must find a way to unite in order to stay relevant. Will they put aside their egos and political differences for the sake of Israel’s Palestinian minority?

Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh (left) speaks to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka in the Knesset chambers. (photo: Activestills)

Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh (left) speaks to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka in the Knesset chambers. (photo: Activestills)

A war of attrition has been declared on the Palestinian minority in Israel, in the wake of endless discussions over the possibility of uniting the Arab parties to run in the upcoming elections. It turns out that Arabs are not really connected to realtime: with every passing week, simple folk such as myself (not to mention 60 percent of the Arab public) who are not active in any political party, are feeling more and more distant. Our trust is dwindling, our skepticism is increasing, and we cannot help but make fun of our leaders’ inability to find the perfect formula. Put simply: how the hell can they fit nine Arab men and one good Jewish man in the same list as a woman or two? You add four more candidates, one from each party, that’s how.

The only thing currently working is the tidal wave of names and descriptions ascribed to the arduous unity process: the term “united party” is no longer relevant; a “united list” may be a better fit. Or what about “strategic unity”; “a fictitious marriage” that will give birth to an “illegitimate child”; or the cherry on top: “the talks between the factions are akin to prostitution and an abandoning of principles.”

We’re getting carried away, if you ask me. It is as if we are talking about a historic agreement that will forever change the political map. We all know that the Arab parties (along with the Arab-Jewish Hadash party) are seen as one bloc anyway. So why break it up now? And how is it that every party seems to be providing its own polls that show that its power is only growing, and that the Arab public has chosen it to lead?

Barakeh’s strange comeback

The problem is that we are already past the stage of fruitless secret talks, and have now entered the stage of emotionally blackmailing the Arab public, coupled with mutual accusations. Ahmed Tibi’s parliamentary aide whined on Facebook that “my brothers hate me, father,” alluding to a famous poem based on the Quranic story of Yusuf. In the 2015 version of the story, Tibi represents Yusuf, who is excluded from the talks for no reason other than his success and the fact that others are envious of him.

MK Ibrahim Zarzur (center) and MK Ahmad Tibi (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills.org)

MK Ibrahim Zarzur (center) and MK Ahmad Tibi. (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills.org)

Meanwhile the Islamic Movement has gotten a divorce from its successful marriage to Tibi’s Ta’al party, and has subsequently begun negotiating with none other than the secular Hadash party. The plan is that Nabila Espaniola (who is Christian) will solve the issue of women’s representation in the Islamic Movement, whose green flag has been turning slightly red over the past few weeks.

And Balad, a party that supports renewal, women and young people, has been stuck without the opportunity to renew, not to mention pass the election threshold by itself. They need Haneen Zoabi, as the entire Knesset is against her. According to one Hadash activist, no one will dare try and replace Zoabi, since doing so would be a capitulation to the extreme right. And justifiably so – there are people whose place in life is dictated by luck, meaning they don’t have to lift a finger. In Zoabi’s case, it is both luck and the far right. Alongside her is Basel Ghattas, who just made it into the Knesset and deserves another shot.

+972 poll: Joint Arab list would raise voter participation

Jamal Zahalka cannot be replaced, since it is irresponsible to leave the political arena and the united list to Tibi and Hadash’s Mohammed Barakeh. This is especially true after Barakeh’s return, which was so quick that I didn’t even have time to throw the newspaper with his career-spanning exit interview [Hebrew] into the recycling bin (yes, some Arabs recycle, and some even use newspapers to clean their windows).

This is Barakeh’s big chance to lead the Arab public in a united list – a wet dream of every male politician, Arab, refugee from Saffuriya, polished and well-spoken, who smelled the opportunity before it got to be too late. He will return (big time!) as the “mukhtar” – the responsible adult who will save the day and stand at the head of the list, since no one can replace him at the moment.

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

With all these complexes in place, it will be difficult to include women, young people, academics, Christians, Druze, Bedouin and representatives of mixed cities in the equation. And we have yet to even speak about a political agenda, programs, division of labor, priorities, the war on racism, poverty, racism and the most obvious questions: how do the parties break up after the election and return to their natural place? And what do they say to their supporters in order to come out feeling righteous, so that the voters think they did everything to support the united list, as opposed to those other pesky parties? There are many challenges facing the negotiating team, which has yet to sit together at the same table. Egos are sky-high and the level of intelligence is at an all-time-low.

Compared to Syria we’re doing just fine

And myself? I am following in the footsteps of my father, who told me a few days ago: “Even if a tow truck drags me to the ballot box, I won’t move from my couch without a united list.”

“Why,” I asked him, “in any case you understand how this dirty game works.”

“Because I am sick of them,” he tells me. “There are a few of them in the Knesset who really work hard, while all the rest just stand in line at the employment office. They have failed at almost everything – or perhaps they were destined to fail. Fine, I accept that. But at the very least they must succeed in uniting. This depends solely on them.”

I searched in my own political history for a reason that this naive wish might come true, just this once. I couldn’t find a trace that could lead me to a decent explanation. Okay, perhaps it is because I don’t have this kind of history.

My explanation, which relies on my gut instinct, is that the current situation is due to what has happened to the Arabs throughout history: we have been divided, weakened, occupied and defeated. The last person who could unite the Arab world was Nasser, who united Egypt and Syria (although this unity eventually broke down). The longing for unity has remained a constant source of hope in Arab history – an illusory cure for all our problems. Look at what is happening in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza, in Hamas and Fatah, in north and south Yemen, in Lebanon and Syria, in Libya. When compared to all these, uniting the Palestinian citizens of Israel seems like a rather easy task.

At the end of the day, the orchestra will be assembled. Every player will play his or her own instrument, while claiming that someone else is out of tune. Under Maestro Liberman, “the United Arab Orchestra” will finally be able to play one normal piece. The show will go on. Somehow.

Samah Salaime Egbariya is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
+972 poll: Joint Arab list would raise voter participation
If Herzog wants to lead, he’ll need to bring the Arabs with him

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    COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      Arab parties should have united decades ago. The fact that they are splintered and divided has been nothing but a gift to the Zionist regime that aims to disenfranchise Palestinians whenever and wherever it can.

      Simple math dictates that, since Arabs are around 22% of Israeli population, their numbers in the knesset should be around 25 seats! Yet they have always been around the 10 seat mark, which is a scandalous misrepresentation of the Arab citizens of Israel.

      The Arab parties should unite for the sake of all elections, dividing the seats amongst themselves in an agreed-upon manner, and then vote their conscience the rest of the way.

      Stop giving the Zionists gifts!

      Reply to Comment
      • Phil Fumble

        Danny. There are and always have been Arab MKs in other parties such as Labor, Likud, Kadima etc. They must be the type of Arabs you don’t like however, so you ignore them.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tony Riley

        Because Israel is a democracy, many Arab Israelis don’t feel that they have to vote for Arab parties. At the last election, some of them even voted for Netanyahu!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn4

      Unite don’t unite. We don’t care. Either way it isn’t going to matter. In this election maybe the Arabs will get a few more MKs. The next time it will be a few less once the unity shtick wears off. At the end of the day the Arab MKs are still trying to re-fight 1948. Until they move on and accept that they are living in a Jewish State and stop trying to undermine it they will continue to be ignored and marginalized.

      Reply to Comment
      • nsttnocontentcomment

        Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        It is YOU who should get used to the coming Palestinian State…Whether you like it or not.

        Let it be written…

        Let it be done…

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn4

          I am also ready for the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Mary Poppins and Snow White. Its cold and rainy here and I would be happy if you could get them all to pile into a cab along with the Palestinian State and come over so that we can drink some arak together and warm up.

          Let it be written…

          Let it be done…

          Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        You’re such an ass. If you gave them anything like true equality and fairness and dignity and respect in 2015 95% of them would be way, way less focused on 1948. You’re like the abuser who says “why the hell are you dwelling on the past, get on with it” while at the same time continuing the abuse in the present. Then you wonder why there’s any morbid focus on the past. Be just and fair in the PRESENT and they will be much much less focused on the past. You are so thick headed and smug and arrogant. The epitome of what objective observers find repellent about Israeli rightists.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn4

          The only problem with your argument is that it is garbage. The more affluent and educated the Israeli Arabs get (ie – closer to equality) the further they move towards being anti-Israel. The truth is that Israeli Arabs over the past 20 years have been catching up on all fronts (economic, educational, social) and their opposition to Israel and obsession with 1948 have only grown stronger.

          And, I am presuming “objective” is what you think you are along with the rest of the smug trolls that come here to preach from up high to the Israelis about what they should and should not do. If what I say bothers you deal with it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            I’m dealing with it quite quite fine. Everything you just said, 47 years into an occupation, shows you understand not a word I said. Tell Sayed Kashua he’s only grown this and that. It’s your frankly fascist version of Zionism, laid out on the Hebdo article site here, that disables any opportunity to understand.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn4

            I understood every word that you said to be bullshit and I am debunking it accordingly. Sayed Keshua is a perfect example as a product of an Arab society that is obsessed to the essence of its being with continuing to fight the 1948 war again and again in order to undo Israel. I have read every one of his books and many of his articles. That is the underlying theme. He is not a violent man. His dream as a writer was to convince the Jews to abandon the Jewish State. He failed. He left. Good riddance.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            You debunk nothing. What a narcissist. Wear your frank Jewish fascism and your sick race doctrine proudly while you can Kolumn, either you’re right or Ehud Barak is right about what’s coming. You can’t both be right. You’re losing friends fast in this world. I know, tough shit, who cares, we don’t, blah blah blah. You’re a lot of talk. We shall see.

            Reply to Comment
          • Weiss

            It is YOU who will have to DEAL with the INEVITABLE Palestinian State that is coming…

            Whether you like it or not…

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn4

            Hahahaha. My dear fellow of limited mental capacity, please take your medicine. You are barfing your delusions all over your keyboard.

            Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Unite don’t unite. We don’t care. Either way it isn’t going to matter. In this election maybe the Arabs will get a few more MKs. The next time it will be a few less once the unity shtick wears off. At the end of the day the Arab MKs are still trying to re-fight 1948. Until they move on and accept that they are living in a Jewish State and stop trying to undermine it they will continue to be ignored and marginalized.”

        With 10-11 seats – quite possibly. With 25 seats – impossible. The Arabs in Israel have been handing Zionists like you an electoral gift for decades by staying divided and conquered (just the way you like them). Here’s hoping they finally learn from their mistakes and unite.

        “accept that they are living in a Jewish State”

        Really, it’s Jewish? How come I wasn’t invited to the briss and bar mitzva? Just for your information, a state can’t be Jewish because it isn’t human. It can be a state with a Jewish majority, but that’s about it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn4

          And what do you think will happen if they have 25 seats? 🙂 The Zionists will negotiate for the elimination of Israel? What planet do you live on where you think that Livni, Lapid and Kachlon are more likely to find common ground with Zoabi than Bibi? Nothing will happen. There will be a “national unity government” that will once again ignore the Arabs if the Arabs get 25MKs.

          Also, your math is off. The Arabs can’t get 25 seats because they do not form 20% of the voting population. East Jerusalem Arabs can’t vote in the Knesset even though they are included in Israeli population numbers. The Israeli Arabs have a younger population which means a smaller proportion is of voting age. Additionally the numbers presented usually lump in the Druze with the Israeli Arabs, and the Druze do not vote for the Arab parties. 15 MKs is roughly the upper limit that the Arabs can realistically hope for and I have my doubts about how enthusiastic Hadash voters will be to vote for Zoabi and Balad voters for Dov Khenin. I am not even really sure that there will be a united Arab party because there is no good reason why Hadash and Raam/Taal should bail Balad out of the electoral failure which almost certainly awaits them if they run separately, while Hadash and Raam/Taal can both run independently and pass the election threshold.

          Yep, the state is Jewish. So it was declared and so it is accepted internally. It is called Israel. The schedule is Jewish, the immigration law is biased towards Jews, the predominant language is Jewish, the predominant culture is Jewish. The Israeli Arabs (or at least most of their leadership) have yet to accept this and wish to undo each of these in turn, and eventually undo the existence of the state as a whole and replace it with something else. As long as that is the case they will be treated like the fifth column that they are.

          But thats ok. I know you don’t actually believe what you are writing. You are just here propagandizing as usual, just as you did when you claimed that any minute now Hamas would get a port and an airport and about how my government is lying to me about the agreement behind the cease-fire.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Even with 20 seats, it would be around 10 less seats that go to Zionist parties (and that’s a good thing, in my opinion). Sure, the Arabs would still be discriminated against (or in your words, ignored), but it would be a much harder task to do so. 20 seats acting together are a formidable force that could become very influential in parliamentary committees and voting.

            Regarding your “Jewish state” – it is Jewish because it discriminates against non-Jews. How long do you think that can last? Forever? What happens when the Arabs are 30% of the population? What about 40%? Shades of South Africa…

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Did you know that Hamas is holding an Ethiopian Jew hostage in Gaza? No? Why do you think your government hasn’t told you about it?

            For the real skinny about what happens in Israel, check out Richard Silverstein’s blog.

            Reply to Comment
          • Phil Fumble

            Richard Silversten? You have to joking. Pure propoganda. A few months ago, he announced that Ehud Barak had Alzheimer’s disease. Not speculated, not served it as a rumor, but stated it as fact.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Mikesailor

      Danny: Tell me. What would happen if the “Arab” parties push for equal rights for all citizens of Israel and disavow Zionism? It doesn’t matter if they are one-fifth of the population, the sacred cow of Zionism will unite almost all Jews who will disenfranchise the non-Jews in every way they can think of. And with a rubber-stamp court system which would never protect any non-Jew, the slide into totalitarian fascism will only accelerate. The “Arab” parties’ have avoided such a fate by never pushing too far with the idea of equal and civil rights. They have, in effect, adopted a strategy of “nibbling around the edges” rather than protesting full bore (with the possible exception of Zoabi who scares the Zionists silly). Unfortuantely, this strategy’s usefulness seems to be at an end. But, what should they do? You have to drive a stake through the heart of Zionism lest the vampire it represents rise again. But that will mean bucking tha majority of Israeli Jews who will close ranks rather than give up their only reason for being in the Middle East and their right to brutalize and steal from the indigenous inhabitants. To what end should they combine?

      Reply to Comment
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