At a time when about 20% of the Joint Arab List voters are telling pollsters they’d like to see other politicians, Meretz, the only legitimate Jewish-Arab party in Israel (the Arabs’ single Jewish MK, Ofer Kasif, is sheer tokenism), is courting disappointed Arabs.
The Meretz faction MKs agreed on Sunday to cancel the party’s primaries and decided instead that the party’s current Knesset list would also be the party’s list for the next election. Because of the fiasco of running together with Labor and Gesher, whose members jumped ship to the Netanyahu government, the Meretz Knesset faction nowadays is comprised of only three: Nitzan Horowitz, Tamar Zandberg, and Yair Golan—the infamous former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff whose chances to lead the army were ruined by his 2016 Holocaust Day speech in which he drew a parallel between Nazi Germany in the 1930s and Israel today.
The Meretz leadership decision also means that the vote for the party leadership election will be canceled because no one wants to run for office against incumbent chairman Horowitz who will continue to head Meretz in the upcoming elections as well.
According to the faction’s decision, which is conditioned on the approval of the party conference, Jida Rinawi-Zoabi, a social activist from Nazareth, will be in fourth place on the party’s slate, and the opening quintet will also feature former MK Issawi Frij, in fifth place. Based on the polls and on the party’s past performances, five seats is the minimum Meretz can expect to gain. The slate also includes an Arab candidate in ninth place, educator Ali Salala.
In its early days, from 1992 to 1996, Meretz was at its peak with 12 seats in the Knesset and the inside track on the Oslo initiative. It continues to stress its support for a two-state solution, even as Israeli Arabs, and most certainly Arabs in the region, are losing interest.
“I am happy that together with the chairman of Meretz Nitzan Horowitz we managed to bring about the best result in the form of a list that will present an Arab-Jewish partnership as well as gender equality,” Frij said on Sunday, adding that “in this election, Meretz will be a key player in Arab society thanks to the partnership, which is expressed first and foremost in the composition of the list.”
In past elections, Arab voters have saved Meretz’s hide, giving it the votes it desperately needed to stay above the threshold percentage (a list must win 3.25% of the votes before it can enter the Knesset). Meretz rewarded its Arab loyalists by betraying them, going into a suicidal pact with Amir Peretz of Labor. The Arab voters responded in kind, helping the Joint Arab List up from 13 to 15 seats in the current, 23rd Knesset.
Even with its three-Arabs slate, Meretz will have to offer the Arab voters more than the two-state rhetoric, at a time when the Likud and the Islamist party are promising to bring prosperity to Israeli Arabs. If all it manages in March is to eke out four or five seats, Meretz will remain on the sidelines, possibly carving its own path to extinction.