Disagreement Over Mid-Term Rotation Roils Joint Arab List

Disagreement Over Mid-Term Rotation Roils Joint Arab List

September 15, 2017

Joint ListSince July of 2017, the four parties making up the Joint Arab List have been in a dispute over implementation of a mid-term rotation agreement that was signed at the time of the list’s formation. The dispute has tarnished the party's image in the eyes of the Arab public and has been an indication of the List's weakness both in terms of internal cohesion and capacity to effectively lead.

The Joint Arab List is a union of four parties (three Arab and one Jewish-Arab) that combined lists after Israel's electoral threshold was raised in 2014. By uniting, the parties ensured Arab representation would remain in the Knesset. Since, they have exceeded expectations by winning 13 seats in the 2015 general elections and, by some estimates, simply by staying together despite the deep ideological differences among the four parties.

The mid-term rotation agreement was one of the compromises that made it possible for the parties to unite in the first place. According to the agreement, seats occupied by MKs in the 12th and 13th spots on the list were to be relinquished half way through the term to MKs in the 14th and 15 positions.

However, when MK Basel Ghattas resigned from the Knesset in March after being indicted for smuggling cell phones to prisoners, Jouma Azbarga [14th seat] took his place, shifting the order of the remainder of the list. When the mid-term rotation date arrived, the parties disagreed about how to interpret the rotation agreement as it did not contain provisions for addressing such potential changes: Was it intended to be specific to the rotation of particular individuals holding particular places on the list? Or more generally, was it referring to the number of seats that would be held by each party in the Knesset after rotation?

Members of Balad believe that the agreement should be implemented according to the change in the number of seats per party. Under this interpretation, Balad would gain a seat, going from 3 to 4 MKs in the Knesset, while with the current chronological resolution, Balad remains with only 3 seats.  Balad's understanding would require three candidates, from the 16th to the 18th places on the Joint List slate, to withdraw their candidacy so that Balad's next candidate, Niveen Abu Rahman (19th spot), could rotate in. Ra’am has expressed willingness to implement Balad’s interpretation, whereas members of Hadash , as expressed in Arab media, seem more internally conflicted about this.

Abdullah Abu Marouf (Hadash) [13th spot] resigned in early August, bringing in Saeed Alharomi (Ra’am) [15th seat] who was next on the list. On September 18th, MK Osama Sa’adi (Ta’al) [12th spot] announced his resignation and was replaced by Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) [16th spot], thereby implementing the agreement on the basis of the list’s chronology. 

In September, Al-Arab quoted MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) as saying that Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) is acting as a place holder until September 30th, when Niveen Abu Rahman would rotate in. As of the writing of this post, Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra'am) [16th spot] resigned prior to the start of the Knesset's winter session and Yousef Atauna (Hadash) [17th spot] rotated in. Some see Hijazi's resignation as a further indication by Ra'am that it is fulfilling the rotation agreement according to Balad's interpretation, regardless of what Hijazi's successor, Atauna from Hadash, will do.**  

**Update: In February 2018, MK Yousef Atauna resigned, making way for Wael Younis of Ta'al. Ta'al would also have to resign for Balad to attain the 4 seats it claims under the rotation agreement.

Public Discourse

The dispute, which had been widely publicized in Arab media in Israel, has drawn significant criticism from Arab society about the ability of the Joint List to work together, about their commitment to the interests of the Arab public in Israel as opposed to their own individual gains, and a lack of overall professional capacity in for their inability to form and implement an effective agreement. The latter point raised additional questions about their ability to work  on behalf of Arab society in Israel if they are unable to negotiate and resolve issues among themselves. Additionally, some voices in Arab society see the internal disagreement as hypocritical, diminishing the list’s criticisms and complaints lodged against the current government, since as Haaretz columnist, Odeh Bisharat, “if they act like wolves to each other, how can they complain about wolves on the outside?

Current List

As of February 21st, 2018, following a series of resignations and rotations, the Joint Arab List is now composed of the following sitting MKs:

  1. Aiman Odeh (Hadash)
  2. Masud Ganaim (Ra'am)
  3. Jamal Zahalka (Balad)
  4. Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al)
  5. Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash)
  6. Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Ra'am)
  7. Hanin Zoabi (Balad)
  8. Dov Khenin (Hadash)
  9. Taleb Abu Arar (Ra'am)
  10. Yosef Jabareen (Hadash)
  11. Joumah Azbarga (Balad) - replaced Basel Ghattas (Balad) on 3/21/2017
  12. Saeed Alkharumi (Ra’am) - replaced Dr. Abdullah Abu Maaruf (Hadash) on 8/11/2017
  13. Wael Younis (Ta'al) - replaced Yousef Atauna (Hadash) in February 2018, whoreplaced Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) as of 10/25/17, who replaced Osama Sa’adi (Ta’al) on 9/18/17.

If this configuration remains as is, then each party has the following number of seats:

Hadash – 4 seats
Balad – 3 seats
Ra'am – 4 seats
Ta’al – 2 seats

*this post last updated on February 21, 2017.

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