Election drama: Arab party breaks up, boosting odds of Netanyahu victory

Radical Arab nationalist Balad faction splits off of Joint List, vowing to run alone despite polls showing it failing to enter Knesset – and wasting thousands of Arab votes. Lapid denies orchestrating split.

By World Israel News Staff

One of the two Arab parties serving in the Knesset abruptly announced it will be breaking up, with one of the three constituent factions running separately in the upcoming election.

On Thursday night, as the deadline for registering candidate lists for the November election neared, members of the Balad faction – a radical Arab nationalist movement – stunned reporters by announcing that they have broken off from the Joint List, and have submitted an independent slate to the Central Elections Committee.

The last-minute announcement came without prior warning, apparently amid an internal dispute over the division of spots on the Joint List’s candidate list.

The Joint List was first formed ahead of the 2015 Knesset election, bringing together four separate Arab factions: the secular Arab nationalist Balad movement, the communist Hadash party, the Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am), and the Arab nationalist Ta’al party.

The united front won a stunning 13 seats in 2015, only to split apart into two separate lists in the first Knesset election of 2019, with the Hadash-Ta’al alliance winning six seats, compared to just four for the UAL-Balad ticket.

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The Joint List was reformed five months later, regaining the 13 seats it won in 2015, before rising to 15 seats in the 2020 election – a record high for Israel’s Arab parties.

But the alliance faltered again in the 2021 election, with the Islamist UAL (Ra’am) faction splitting off for a solo run. The party barely cleared the electoral threshold in 2021, receiving four seats, while the Joint List won six.

Now, with three major Arab parties running separately – the Joint List, UAL (Ra’am), and Balad – experts expect at least one of the three to fail to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold, leaving it out of the Knesset.

Two polls conducted after the split found Balad failing to enter the Knesset, with the Joint Arab List falling in the polls by two seats, to four mandates.

Yousef Makladeh, Channel 13’s pollster for the Arab sector, said the breakup is a boon for Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking with Radio 103FM Sunday morning, Makladeh claimed the split could put Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc over the top.

“Netanyahu benefited from this split, he’s now at 60-61 seats,” for the right-wing bloc, “and he can benefit even more if one of the parties fails [to pass the threshold], which is definitely possible. He could get to 62-63 seats.”

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“When Balad comes into the picture and runs alone, it takes a seat or more from the Joint List, and also takes votes from the UAL [Ra’am].”

Balad chief Sami Abou Shahadeh accused the leaders of Hadash and Ta’al of reneging on a deal regarding the division of seats in the Joint List, while accusing Prime Minister Yair Lapid of orchestrating the move.

“I have no other explanation,” Shahadeh told Channel 12. “There was a decision, apparently including Lapid, to destroy Balad.”

Some senior members of Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction told Israel Hayom Saturday night that the split could serve their interests, suggesting the departure of the radical Balad faction could allow the Hadash and Ta’al factions to moderate their positions.

Yesh Atid formally denied Shahadeh’s claims that Lapid encouraged the split, however, tweeting: “Yesh Atid and Prime Minister Yair Lapid were not involved in the split of the Joint List and we have no idea who spread this nonsense or why.”