Disagreement Over Mid-Term Rotation Roils Joint Arab List

Disagreement Over Mid-Term Rotation Roils Joint Arab List

September 15, 2017

Since 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 disagreement, which appeared to have been at least partially resolved as of September 18th, continues according to Arab media. It has tarnished the party's image in the eyes of the Arab public and has been an indication of its 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?

As of the writing of this post, 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 is set to be replaced by Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) [16th spot], thereby implementing the agreement on the basis of the list’s chronology.  

However, 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. The other three parties are reluctant to commit to any resignations or to withdraw their candidates for rotation into the Knesset.

At the moment 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 is slated to rotate in. It is not yet clear whether this view is corroborated by other parties, though there are some reports in Arab media that negotiations between the party are contiuing despite this latest rotation according to chronology.  

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

Following the September 18th rotation in which Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) [16th spot] took the place of Osama Sa’adi (Ta’al) [12TH spot], the Joint Arab List is 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. Ibrahim Hijazi (Ra’am) - replaced Osama Sa’adi (Ta’al)
  13. Saeed Alkharumi (Ra’am) - replaced Dr. Abdullah Abu Maaruf (Hadash) on 8/11/2017

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

Hadash – 4 seats
Balad – 3 seats
Ra'am – 5 seats
Ta’al – 1 seats

*this post last updated on September 25th, 2017.

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