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In pictures: Bittersweet election win for Arab Israelis

Mehdi Chebil/FRANCE 24

Celebrations at the Joint List’s headquarters over becoming the third-largest political force in Israel after Tuesday’s elections were muted by concern over the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prospect of business as usual.

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reporting in Nazareth

By winning 14 seats in the new parliament, the Joint List alliance of three Arab-Israeli parties and Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), a Jewish-Arab leftist party, has nevertheless achieved its goal of becoming a significant political force in the country.

"It's the end of the dream for Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman of an Israel without Arabs. With the results from this evening we are now clearly present on the political map of the country," Imad Abu Ahmad, an architect and a Hadash activist, told FRANCE 24 in the great hall of Abu Maher in Nazareth.

The Joint List's new political weight in the 120-seat Knesset should allow this formerly marginalised community to advance its two main goals: to establish a real equality between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Appeal to the right

But the political ambitions of Arab Israelis will face an uphill battle with Netanyahu remaining at the helm. With Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party taking 30 seats to the 24 won by Isaac Herzog’s centre-left Zionist Union, many of the Joint List’s supporters remain profoundly disappointed.

"The Israelis complain all the time about Netanyahu, they said they wanted change. We mobilised and did our part, but we now see that Israeli Jews are not yet ready to take the plunge," said Jowad Ankar, a member of the Arab-Israeli Ta'al party and a Joint List candidate.

The prospect of another term for Netanyahu is made even more painful by the way the prime minister appealed to far-right voters in the days before the election, when opinion polls indicated that the race was still too close to call.

In a message posted Tuesday on his Facebook page, Netanyahu warned that Israel's right wing was in danger because Arab Israelis were going to vote "in droves" since leftist Israeli groups were "busing them out".

Asked by Israel’s NRG website on Monday whether it was safe to assume that a Palestinian state would never be established while he was prime minister, Netanyahu responded: “Indeed.” He went on to warn that the creation of a Palestinian state would increase the likelihood of Islamist attacks on Israel.

"I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel," Netanyahu said. "The left has buried its head in the sand time after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand."

His statements appeared to be a disavowal of his earlier support for a two-state solution. In a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu said: “In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect.”

Presenting a united front

Bashar Omary, a high school student who spent 14 hours on the ground trying to convince as many people as possible to vote for the Joint List, said Netanyahu’s comments amounted to fear-mongering.

"Netanyahu uses every racist stereotype about Arabs to instil fear among the Jewish population. He portrays us as fascists, but it is he who uses fascist methods," said Omary.

The young activist hopes that the Arab-Israeli parties can maintain a united front to support a coalition led by Herzog and minimise the influence of a new Netanyahu-led government.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh has said that negotiations are under way between the List's four coalition parties to hammer out a common position vis-à-vis Herzog’s Zionist Union.

"What unites us is much stronger than what divides us,” said Hadash’s Ahmad.

“Against Netanyahu, we cannot afford to stand alone."
 

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Translated from an original article in French. For the French article, click here.

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