Ideology isn’t a Dirty Word

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The disintegration of the Joint List is arousing diametrically opposite reactions from the two big blocs of the Israeli political spectrum. How will this new political reality play out in the upcoming elections?

The breakup of the Joint List has provoked diverse reactions on the Left and Right. The Right is delighted, because it believes that this puts it on the road to winning its 61st Knesset seat and closer than ever to forming a pure rightwing Government. The anti-Bibi camp, by contrast, is extremely worried by this development, which took place only a few minutes before the closing of the candidate lists. The Left is afraid the split will exacerbate the Arab sector’s distrust of its leaders, reduce voter turnout, and make the possibility of a coalition without the Likud and without Netanyahu more remote.

It is still too early to determine who will be the next Prime Minister, but the disjointing of the Joint List is the most significant development to date in the current election campaign.

On the one hand, the split created three Arab lists, each with its own ideology, platform, and organizing principle. Arab voters can now freely choose one of these options. Ra’am has a pragmatic approach and aspires to be part of whatever coalition emerges, left or right; its civic agenda tries to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hadash-Ta’al has a realistic and more radical perception of the situation and does see a difference between the Left and the Right. It would like to forge a governing alternative to the settler rightwing, while promoting a national and civic agenda that places the end of the occupation at its center. Balad holds political ideas taken from both Ra’am and Hadash. It sees no difference between the Left and Right, dismisses all streams in Israeli politics as variations on Zionism, with which no cooperation is possible, and categorically rejects the option of negotiations with the current forces. On the other hand, its platform integrates the civic and national agendas and places the conflict and occupation front and center.

From another angle, the dissolution of the Joint List could lead to a campaign of mutual mud-slinging, vilification, and attacks, that would cause the Arabs to vote with their feet and reduce their representation in the next Knesset.

In contrast to what many believe, the e last-minute explosion that blew up the Joint List is not a product of snags in the negotiations among the three parties that formed it. It is, rather, the inevitable outcome of four key factors.

The first is the internal politics and factionalism inside the parties, which exacerbate internal disagreements, especially in Hadash and Balad. The agreement the two parties signed a few days before the submission deadline, which largely adhered to the political line stipulated by Balad, provoked serious anger among Hadash activists. In addition, it is no secret that Balad itself is divided into two camps, one of them interested in glossing over the disagreements with the Joint Lists' other constituents, with the other- pushing for autonomy and going it alone in the election, even at the cost of forfeiting the party’s representation in the Knesset. The second factor is the unbridgeable ideological and political gulfs among the three parties. Hadash and Ta’al would like to have some influence in the Israeli political system. Balad, however, set conditions that amount to no recommendation of a candidate for Prime Minister, no coordination with other parties, and no membership in any coalition. The third factor is the distrust among the parties and their inability to broaden the basis of their partnership. The fragile political situation and each party’s perception that the other side is growing weaker and will not be able to pass the electoral threshold on its own, caused them to entrench themselves in their positions and raise impossible conditions at the last moment. All these factors widened the gulf and made it impossible to heal the breach.

Clearly the split in the Joint List is not the exclusive result of the politicians’ desire to hold onto their Knesset seats, but also involves irreconcilable ideological and political gulfs. There are indeed indications that Arab turnout will continue to decrease, but it is too early to announce a winner. The ramifications of the split and the turnout rate will become clearer as time passes; much depends on the campaigns of both the Arab parties and the “change bloc” and how the latter relates to Arab voters and Arab parties.

The article was published in Haaretz.