In a historical agreement, Israel’s four largest Arab parties announced on Thursday that they will run jointly in the upcoming elections for the Knesset in March. This is the first time in Israel’s history that such a union, though often discussed, has actually come to fruition.
According to the agreement, the new party will be led by Aiman Ouda, the chairman of Hadash, the joint Jewish-Arab communist party. Masoud Ghanem of the United Arab Party was granted the number two spot; he will be followed by Jamal Zahalka of the Balad party and Ahmad Tibi of Ta’al.
While recent polls indicate that a unified Arab party might drive up voter turnout among Israeli Arabs by as much as 10 percent, it remains unclear how the new party plans to overcome the inherent ideological divides setting its members apart. Ghanem, for example, is a former senior official in the Islamic Movement, a milder Israeli offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, while Zahalka is a secularist and an atheist. Tibi has spoken out against Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal campaign against his own people, while Hadash has supported the Syrian despot, with the party’s secretary general stating that “to fight imperialism, Communists and revolutionaries ought to rush to the defense of the Assad regime.”
These are no minor fault lines, and the new party’s first and most crucial challenge is likely to be crafting a platform that claims more common ground than points of contention. Otherwise, its historical significance may be short-lived.