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Arab Joint List in Israel set to split ahead of March election

Breakup of Joint List announced following meeting that failed to reconcile differences among the parties
Abbas Mansour, left, the head of the United Arab List, sitting with Ayman Odeh, centre, and Ahmad Tibi, right, of the Joint List during a media conference, 22 September 2019 (AFP)

The Joint List political alliance representing Palestinian citizens of Israel is set to split after a conservative faction announced its withdrawal from the largely left-wing coalition.

Abbas Mansour, head of the United Arab List (UAL) - the southern branch of the Islamic Movement - announced his party's withdrawal on Wednesday citing more common ground on social issues with the likes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and Jewish religious parties.

The rift within the Arab Joint List, which won 15 seats in the Knesset in the last Israel election, first appeared in December, when Mansour stated in a Facebook post that, although he supported a two-state solution, in internal issues and religious matters he had little in common with leftists.

"What have I to do with the left?" Abbas said.

"In foreign policy, I am there of course, and we support the two-state solution. But in religious matters, I'm right-wing."

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He explained he had more in common with conservative Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism than with socially liberal parties like Meretz.

He also praised Netanyahu saying "as I want peace and Netanyahu does not want war, so we could speak".

Ideological differences

The Knesset has to approve the party names which are running for the election on 4 February.

Mohammed Baraka, the head of High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, held a meeting in his house in Shfaram town on Wednesday, north of Israel, with representatives of coalition members Hadash, Ta'al and Balad, to heal the political alliance and run for the election with Mansour’s UAL, but talks reached a deadlock.

According to Haaretz, however, a representative of the United Arab List left the meeting before it concluded.

Mansour Dahamshe, secretary-general of the left-wing Hadash party, said that “we must admit to the Arab public that we did not manage to reach an agreement”, while Osama Saadi of Ta'al party lamented the failure of the meeting, warning that the Joint List was breaking up.

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Knesset member, told i24 News that the Joint List was "continuing without Mansour who chooses Netanyahu, not the Arab community”.

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The UAL said it had two conditions if it was to run together with the Joint List: that the Joint List announce that it was ready to collaborate with Israeli Jewish parties to ensure "the rights of Arab community inside Israel," and that the Joint List would not vote in the Knesset in favour of laws breaking Islamic and religious laws.

The other three factions in the Joint List are strictly secular and left-leaning and many of their policies - outside of support for Palestinian rights and the two-state solution - have long been at odds with the socially conservative and religious UAL.

They reportedly rejected UAL's conditions for rejoining the coalition.

Netanyahu has been attempting to push for an Arab-Jewish partnership in a bid to win votes in Palestinian towns inside Israel, who make up almost 20 percent of Israel’s population.

He visited the city of Nazareth in January and met Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam, whom Manous’s UAL is reported to have recruited as a candidate, along with former Sakhnin mayor Mazin Ghanaim.

On 23 December, Israel was cast into its fourth election cycle in two years after its coalition government failed to pass a state budget.

Voters will now return to the polls for the second time during the Covid-19 pandemic - the previous was held on 2 March.

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