Israel's Arab parties join forces to make gains in upcoming polls

Palestinian nationalist Balad was the last to join the reunited Joint List of Arab parties before September polls.

    Ayman Odeh, centre, said the only chance to 'overthrow the right-wing Israeli government' is for the four Arab parties to unite [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]
    Ayman Odeh, centre, said the only chance to 'overthrow the right-wing Israeli government' is for the four Arab parties to unite [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]

    Israel's four Arab political parties have formally announced a decision to join forces in September's election, in a move aimed at boosting turnout among the minority that comprises a fifth of the country's population.

    The four parties are the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (known as Hadash-Ta'al), Arab Movement for Renewal, United Arab List and the Palestinian nationalist Balad.

    Balad was the last party to announce late on Sunday night that it would join the reunited Joint List of Arab parties, months after infighting fragmented the political alliance.

    Ayman Odeh, head of the Hadash-Ta'al party, said on Monday that the reunited parties could now address the "great challenge" facing the country's Palestinian Arab minority.

    Israeli electoral polls published last week projected that the Joint List could become the third-largest party in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, after the September 17 polls.

    The four factions first united in 2015, earning 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But infighting later split the Joint List into two parties, which only won a combined 10 seats amid low Arab turnout in April's election. Around 49 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel cast ballots, down from 64 percent in the 2015 election.

    In earlier comments made at a press conference on Saturday, Odeh said that only if they teamed up the four Arab parties would have a chance to "overthrow the right-wing government".

    "Only if we are united can we prevent racism, annexation and the destruction of democracy," he said.

    Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 20 percent of the Israeli population, and have long complained of being the victims of state racism. According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the government has at least 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in various sectors ranging from education to housing and property ownership.

    September vote

    Israel faces an unprecedented repeat election in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition government. Instead, his ruling Likud party advanced a bill to dissolve parliament and cause an election for the second time in 2019.

    The Joint List merger came days before this week's deadline for political parties to finalise their line-ups before the vote.

    Last week, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the left-wing Meretz party announced the formation of the Democratic Union coalition with the goal of beating Netanyahu, who became Israel's longest-serving prime minister earlier this month.

    Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who assumed the leadership of her New Right party last week, is negotiating a union with a constellation of religious nationalist parties headed by Education Minister Rafi Peretz.

    The New Right party failed to win enough votes in April's election to enter the Knesset.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies