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The Future of Israel Might Be Decided by the Joint List Arab Coalition

VICE News spoke to members of the Joint List, a grouping of four Arab parties who may have a major say in the the final result of Israel's tight Tuesday election.

by Creede Newton
Mar 16 2015, 1:10pm

Photo by Ariel Schalit/AP

There's just one day left before the Israeli public votes to decide who will lead their nation as the Middle East region continues to smolder. However, it's still anyone's guess as to whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party will continue the policies of the past six years of rightwing power, or the Zionist Union, a partnering of the Israeli Labor Party headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party, will move Israel to the left.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that the party who might well decide isn't Jewish, Zionist, left, or right wing. It's the Joint List, a ticket made up of four predominately Arab political parties ranging from Communist to Islamist, and it's the first time that they're in a position to be Israel's kingmakers. But, if they have their way, they may end up killing the king.

"If it was our decision, it wouldn't be Netanyahu, Livni, or Herzog as the next prime minister," MK Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Balad party, one of the four in the Joint List, told VICE News.

Zoabi has always had a tumultuous relationship with the state of Israel. The lawmaker is frequently seen at demonstrations, and altercations between Zoabi and the Israeli police are common.

Last year, she was banned from addressing the Knesset [Israeli parliament] for saying that those responsible for the kidnapping of three teenage Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank were not terrorists. The ban was later repealed by Israel's high court.

Then, the electoral threshold for winning seats in the Knesset was raised from 2 percent to 3.25 percent in a move that many saw as a way to keep the smaller Arab political parties, which represent Israel's 1.7 million Arab citizens, out. Instead, they decided to put aside their ideological differences and run together, ensuring that the Arab minority still had a voice.

"The motive of raising the electoral threshold was to politically transfer Palestinians from the government, to have a clean Knesset without Arabs," Zoabi continued. "The result has been the opposite."

According to recent polls, Zionist Union, which has the expressed purpose of pre-empting a fourth term for Netanyahu, will win 26 seats, with Likud coming in second at 22. The Joint List will come third, with 13 seats. If the Joint List doesn't throw its support behind the Zionist Union, a center-left coalition governing Israel becomes highly unlikely.

According to Zoabi, there is no possibility of the Joint List working with the Zionist Union or any other Zionist parties. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List and member of the Jewish-Arab Israeli communist party was on the verge of making a vote sharing agreement with Meretz, a small Zionist-Leftist party, but the move was reportedly blocked by Zoabi's Balad party.

This was "a decision taken by many within the Joint List," she said.

However, the choice to refuse cooperation with all Zionist parties may not be final. VICE News spoke with Dr. Yousef Jabareen, the Joint List spokesman, about his party's role in the next Israeli government.

"We will focus our efforts to block the return of Netanyahu leading the government," he said, expanding this to stopping the return of "any sort of extreme right-wing government."

When asked if that meant that the Joint List would be open to recommending that Herzog and the Zionist Union lead the next government, Jarabeen replied: "It's too early to decide now about our plan after the election, but we hope to lead the opposition and gain seats in the Knesset's committees."

For Jabareen, the most important issue blocking cooperation with Herzog is what he sees as the unfair treatment of Palestinians. "We can't be part of a government that is going to continue the occupation of West Bank, the siege and constant attacks on Gaza, or the discriminatory policies towards our constituency, mainly the Arab community," he told VICE News.

According to Haifa-based Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are more than 50 discriminatory laws that disadvantage the Arab minority in the country. Jabareen hopes to challenge these measures by using the newfound power of the Arab parties to initiate reforms. He hopes to see Joint List candidates on Knesset committees that deal with education, economic, social, and legal issues. Jabareen said that over 50 percent of Arab citizens of Israel are living in poverty, and that this is a direct effect of the state's discriminatory policies.

Certain Israeli politicians are not thrilled about working with Arab colleagues, such as Zoabi. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently said that "disloyal" Arabs should be beheaded with an axe.

Zoabi added that incitement against Palestinians is "part of Israeli political culture," but rhetoric from the likes of Lieberman doesn't intimidate her. While it doesn't encourage her, either, Zoabi said she is determined to work past the current dichotomy of Israeli versus Palestinian, especially within the borders of present-day Israel.

"I cannot accept the choices of either to cooperate with your oppressor or to be isolated," Zoabi said. "This is a defeatist attitude."

And like any good campaigning politician, Zoabi is sure that her party holds the answer to the issues that dominate Israeli society, especially the question of coexistence. "We represent a vision of justice, equality. This is not only for the benefit of Palestinians, but the benefit of the Jewish people, too. [The Joint List] believes in universal values, and we believe in full equality," she said. "We are the true test for Israeli democracy," Zoabi concluded.

Follow Creede Newton on Twitter: @CreedeNewton