Monday, January 26, 2015

Analysis: Arab party unity deal – will it last?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 26, 2015


Now that each party has guaranteed seats in the next Knesset, it can be expected that ideological and personal differences will break it apart.


UAL-Ta'al MK Ahmad Tibi holds a Palestinian flag on Temple Mount. (photo credit:Courtesy)

The Arab parties achieved unity deal last Thursday after weeks of tough negotiations, but one thing is clear: It came under pressure and is likely to split up sooner rather than later.

The parties bickered endlessly over who would get higher positions on the list, with personal and ideological differences also playing a part in the delay.

The United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash, and Balad struck an historic deal Thursday night to run as a united bloc. The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote and pressure from the Arab public have forced the parties to band together.

Now that each party has guaranteed seats in the next Knesset, it can be expected that ideological and personal differences will break it apart.

The struggle to maintain unity was evident on Sunday in back-to-back interviews on Army Radio dealing with the controversy over the cancellation by the nation’s largest bookstore chain, Steimatzky, of its in-store launch of the sale of the Charlie Hebdo French weekly after Arabs objected to its depiction of the prophet Muhammad.

Masud Gnaim, the head of the southern Islamic Movement’s United Arab List, has come out strongly against sale of the weekly. He warned on Army Radio on Sunday that the result could trigger violence from the Arab public.

On the other hand, Dov Henin, from the socialist, secular, Jewish-Arab Hadash Party, when pressed to respond as to whether he agreed with Gnaim, said that he disagreed and supported freedom of expression and wouldn’t have prevent the distribution of the magazine.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arab parties reach historic deal, unite for upcoming election

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 23, 2015


A decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote to win seats in the Knesset has forced the parties to band together.


MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL - Ta'al) in the Knesset.. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Arab parties closed a historic unity deal to form a united bloc for the general election.

Despite the united list, the parties maintain unresolved ideological differences, but the move is meant to gain the maximum number of Knesset seats.

United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash and Balad struck the deal Thursday night. The discussions revolved around running together on one list or on two.

The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote to win seats in the Knesset has forced the parties to band together.

The list will be led by new Hadash head Ayman Odeh, followed by the southern Islamic Movement’s United Arab List’s Masud Gnaim, Balad head Jamal Zahalka in the third slot, and Ta’al head Ahmed Tibi fourth.

They are followed by Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash), Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (United Arab List), Haneen Zoabi (Balad), Dov Henin (Hadash), Taleb Abu Arar (United Arab List), Basel Ghattas (Balad) and Yosef Jabareen (Hadash).

The 12th through 15th spots are to be shared in a rotation between some of the parties.

The committee dealing with efforts to unite the parties was meeting in Kafr Kari, and an unnamed source involved in the talks called it a historic and unprecedented agreement, Channel 2 reported.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Former Knesset speaker to ‘Post’: Nationalism most dangerous kind of politics in Israel

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 8, 2015


Avraham Burg plans to expand Hadash party into something "broader and more comprehensive."


Avraham Burg. (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)

Hadash is the “only party fully committed to Jewish-Arab equality,” former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday.

“I voted for Hadash over the last few election campaigns and I have been writing about it, my views are out there,” said former Labor MK Burg, who joined the Arab-Jewish party on Saturday.

“The nationalistic discourse in the Israeli sphere has cornered the other parties into the same nationalistic discourse,” he said. “Nationalism here is the most dangerous kind of politics that needs to be replaced with a civic one.”

The “core principle of the Israel system should be the equality of all of its citizens,” he argued.

Asked if civic equality is not already part of the state, Burg dismissed the notion.

“I don’t buy it,” Israel is not fully democratic or equal, but gives more privileges to Jews, he said. Israel should strive to model itself on the democratic systems of the US and the EU, Burg said.

Within this kind of civic government, every community can express itself as it likes, but “the state itself should be indifferent to ethnicity and should be equal for all.”

Asked about his plans for the Hadash party, Burg said he plans “to expand it into something wider and more comprehensive.”

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Arab parties’ internal divisions delaying negotiations over united list

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 6, 2015


MK Haneen Zoabi to Post: “There is a real will to form a united Arab list” and this “is a historical achievement


Hanin Zoabi. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israeli Arab parties continue to be hampered by internal disputes which are preventing them from coming to an agreement on a united list, but Balad MK Haneen Zoabi on Tuesday played down the divisiveness.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Zoabi said the internal party primary process is a natural one and that as soon as it is completed Arab unity would be possible.

“There is a real will to form a united Arab list,” she said, calling this “a historic achievement.| The union will bring more mandates so everyone wins, Zoabi said, asserting that it, therefore, doesn’t matter who is ahead of whom in the race.

Separately, she criticized former Labor Knesset speaker Avraham Burg for preaching to the Arabs about what they should do, saying he should respect their decision to form a united list.

The parties – United Arab List- Ta’al, Hadash and Balad – have been unable to close a deal to run together, much less agree on who would lead the new grouping in the election.

A decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote to win seats in the Knesset has forced the parties to band together.

However, Ghada Zoabi, the founder and CEO of the Israeli Arab news portal Bokra.net, told the Post on Tuesday the inability of the parties to unite is frustrating the Arab public and that turnout in the sector is likely to be lower if unity is not achieved.

Balad MK Basel Ghattas, in an interview with Bokra.net on Thursday, said he would like to run for the leadership of his party and replace current head Jamal Zahalka. A political source told the Post Ghattas would not lead the party.

If Zahalka withdraws his candidacy or fails to get the required support of 60 percent, Ghattas had said “I see myself as a candidate for the first spot.”

Zahalka has not yet gathered the support needed to assure himself another term as party head, a knowledgeable political source told the Post last month.

A Balad source told the Post on Tuesday that there are “internal issues” within the party – a struggle and fight between Ghattas and Zahalka and Ghattas and Zoabi. If Ghattas does not win the first spot, he would run for the second place against Zoabi – “a street fight,” adding that this is delaying everything.”

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Experts raise speculation over succession after Saudi king falls ill

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 5, 2015


Prof. Teitelbaum to ‘Post’: Saudi successions are usually smooth. The royal family knows that succession battles can be devastating and will do everything to avoid one.


Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud speaks before a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry (not pictured) at his private residence in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is suffering from pneumonia and temporarily needed help to breath through a tube on Friday, increasing speculation on who could succeed him.

The procedure was successful and his condition is now stable, the royal court said.

“Saudi successions are usually smooth. The royal family knows that succession battles can be devastating and will do everything to avoid one.” Professor Joshua Teitelbaum, an expert on the modern Middle East at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), told The Jerusalem Post.

The elderly monarch was admitted to the King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh on Wednesday for tests after he suffered what one source described as breathing difficulties, state media said.

King Abdullah, who took power in 2005 after the death of his half-brother King Fahd, is thought to be 91, although official accounts are unclear. He has undergone surgery in the past few years related to a herniated disc.

Abdullah named his half-brother, Prince Salman, 13 years his junior, heir apparent in June 2012 after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz. Last year he appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as deputy crown prince, giving some assurance on the kingdom's long-term succession process.

"King Abdullah has played his cards well. Crown Prince Salman, at 78, is rumored to be in poor health. His successor, deputy crown prince Muqrin is younger and will be able to rule for longer,” explained Teitelbaum.

To read the entire article click here.

MK Ghattas sets his sights on becoming leader of Balad

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 5, 2015


Southern Islamic Movement confirms Masud Ganaim to replace Ibrahim Sarsur as leader of movement.


Knesset. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Balad MK Basel Ghattas said in an interview with an Israeli Arab media outlet that he would like to run for the leadership of his party and replace current head Jamal Zahalka.

If Zahalka withdraws his candidacy to lead the party or fails to get the required support of 60 percent, then “I see myself as a candidate for the first spot,” he told Bokra.net in an interview on Thursday.

Zahalka has not yet gathered the support needed to assure himself another term as party head, a knowledgeable political source told The Jerusalem Post last month.

The source had pointed out that Zahalka was pushing hard for a united Arab list, even though negotiations were not progressing smoothly, because Balad is pressured by polls indicating it will not make it into the next Knesset.

“Hadash prefers unity, but not with Balad or the Islamic Movement’s party,” said the source.

The Southern Islamic Movement in Israel confirmed that MK Masud Ganaim (United Arab List) would head the movement and take over from MK Ibrahim Sarsur, who decided not to run in the upcoming elections, the Israeli Arab website Kul al-Arab reported on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the board members of the Arab-Jewish party Hadash discussed on Saturday in Nazareth whether to form a joint Arab list with Arab parties.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Israeli Arab MK Tibi raises Palestinian flag on Temple Mount

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 3, 2015


“Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is Arab and the capital of Palestine and the Al-Aksa Mosque is a place of Muslim prayer,” declared Tibi, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.


UAL-Ta'al MK Ahmad Tibi holds a Palestinian flag on Temple Mount. (photo credit:Courtesy)

United Arab list-Ta'al head MK Ahmed Tibi headed a procession to the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount on Saturday and raised the Palestinian flag.

“Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is Arab and the capital of Palestine and al-Aksa Mosque is a place of Muslim prayer,” declared Tibi, Channel 2 reported.

The procession was meant to celebrate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

Tibi also criticized the US administration for rejecting the UN Security Council resolution calling for a Palestinian state saying it takes “a double standard that continues the hostile policy to the rights of the Palestinian people,” according to the report.

Politicians were quick to respond and criticize Tibi’s actions.

MK Yoni Chetboun, who left Bayit Yehudi to join former Shas chairman Eli Yishai’s new party, Yahad Ha’am Itanu, said on Saturday evening, “Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon, there is a fifth-column in the Knesset and only a big and strong national camp will put an end to it.”

To read the entire article click here.

Experts clash over Palestinian demographic statistics

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
January 1, 2015


Data predicted equal Jewish, Arab population in Israel and territories by 2016.


Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli experts vigorously disagree over the accuracy of a new Palestinian report predicting that the number of Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza would equal the number of Israel’s Jews by 2016.

Some criticized the report, claiming there were political motivations behind the numbers and that they were meant to scare Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians.

Others disapproved of the criticism, describing it as politically motivated and un-academic.

The report released this week by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics summarized data from 2014, determining that the projected number of Palestinians in the world is approximately 12.1 million, of whom 4.62 million live in the West Bank and Gaza, 1.46 million live in Israel, 5.34 million are in Arab countries, and some 675,000 reside in foreign countries.

The number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Jews in Israel will total about 6.42 million each in 2016 if current growth rates remain constant, predicted the bureau. It determined that, by the end of 2020, the number of Palestinians in those areas would total 7.14 million, compared to 6.87 million Jews.

Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a senior lecturer at Ariel University, wrote a strategic assessment in October regarding the importance of the demographic factor in government policy toward the Palestinians.

In that assessment, he presented two competing narratives on the subject in Israel. One side saw “demographic processes as a threat to the future of Israel as a state that is both Jewish and democratic, thereby necessitating rapid disengagement from the Palestinians.”

The other side, meanwhile, “disputes the need for panic, pointing instead to data indicating much more moderate trends” and the growth of the Jewish population throughout the country, excluding Gaza.

Michael told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the Palestinian bureau’s numbers appear to be exaggerated, but this does not matter so much.

“The number of Palestinians in Gaza should be excluded from the equation, because Israel has no presence there at all,” he said.

He added that it seems the report had double-counted the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (around 300,000), as Israel already counts them in its own census. Furthermore, he continued, “I assume that they don’t include negative migration and that they don’t count all deaths.”

According to Michael, “the most important insight in this regard is that they have an agenda and a strategic goal – to impose a solution on Israel by recruiting international support based on delegitimization of Israel and demography.” This strategy includes utilizing Israeli Arabs as a demographic political tool, he asserted.

Former ambassador Yoram Ettinger echoed that sentiment.

Ettinger, who was the minister for congressional affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and is a member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, told the Post that there are many flaws in the Palestinian numbers.

Essentially, he said, the Palestinian bureau had overestimated the numbers in the West Bank by 1.1 million. As such, he contended, the report’s West Bank number of 2.83 million residents is really 1.7 million, and the claimed 1.79 million in Gaza is really 1.4 million.

There are a few key errors that the bureau has committed since it began running its census in 1997, he continued.

To read the entire article click here.



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Poll: United Arab list headed by Tibi would get most mandates

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
December 30, 2014


Statnet survey: A united Arab bloc headed by Tibi would get the most mandates with around 11 and 10 if Hadash head Muhammad Barakei or Balad head Jamal Zahalka headed it.


MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL - Ta'al) in the Knesset.. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Arab citizens are divided over whom to support in general election, but most support United Arab List- Ta’al, headed by MK Ahmed Tibi, according to polling data the Statnet research institute shared with The Jerusalem Post.

A united bloc headed by Tibi would get the most mandates of any Arab constellation, with around 11 Knesset seats, and would get 10 if Hadash chairman Muhammad Barakei or Balad leader Jamal Zahalka headlined it.

The vast majority (75 percent) of respondents support the Arab parties running together on one list.

If the parties run separately, as in the past, 26% support United Arab List-Ta’al, 18% Hadash, 10% Balad and 15% Jewish parties. Another 28% of Arab voters are undecided.

Assuming that Arab turnout for the March 17 election will be higher than 62% and the distribution of votes of the undecided voters is distributed proportionally, Statnet predicts Tibi’s party would get between five and six seats in the next Knesset.

Hadash would get around four, Balad would fail to reach the 3.25% threshold and so get zero seats, and the Zionist parties would get around three mandates from Arab voters.

The poll was commissioned by former United Arab List-Ta’al MK Taleb a-Sana in order to check the popularity of Arab parties and various scenarios of uniting them.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Analysis: Israeli Arab parties doing everything not to unite

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
December 29, 2014


It seems that Arab parties prefer not to be forced to run together, but to preserve the status quo, where each party can continue to call the shots for itself.


Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Azmi Bashara. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,ARAB MEDIA)

The High Court of Justice heard a petition on Sunday to declare the new, higher electoral threshold of 3.25 percent unconstitutional.

The decision to raise it from 2% of the vote forces parties to band together to win seats.

However, the parties – United Arab List-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad – have been unable to close a deal to run together, much less agree on who would lead the new grouping for elections scheduled on March 17.

Perhaps it is this disagreement on a unity deal that is behind the legal push to revert to the old 2% threshold.

“We talked to all the Arab parties and they all were against raising the threshold,” said Nadeem Shehadeh, an attorney dealing with the case for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

The raising of the threshold was meant to target the Israeli Arab parties, he claimed.

“Every party has its own demands for being part of a united party,” he said.

Hadash considers itself a Jewish-Arab party, so if it is to be part of a united list, it would want to have Arabs and Jews on that list, he said.

Balad “is more democratic and liberal” and would “want a woman to have a reasonable place on the list” – something that other parties might not agree with, said Shehadeh.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What threat does an Iranian-backed Yemen pose to Israel?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
December 23, 2014


Expert says Jerusalem should explore cooperation with Red Sea countries to avert sea traffic risk; Alliance unlikely, says former deputy national security adviser.


Iran displays its arsenal of missiles. (photo credit:Courtesy)

Iranian-backed Shi'ite Houthi rebels’ takeover of Yemen’s capital in September has raised alarms not only among its regional Sunni rivals, such as neighboring Saudi Arabia, but also in Israel.

If the Houthis are able to solidify control over the southernmost country on the Arabian Peninsula, which lying on the Red Sea is Israel’s outlet from its southern port in Eilat, it could create a risk for Israel and other countries’ sea traffic.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti could also be affected if Yemen would become an Iranian hub. If any of these countries would cooperate with Israel to counter such a scenario still remains up in the air.

Reuters revealed details of Iranian military and financial support to the Houthis before and after their takeover of Sanaa, according to Yemeni, Western and Iranian sources.

Houthis are Shi’ites from the Zaydi branch, also known as Fivers, who believe in the first five imams after Muhammad, up until the fifth, Zayd ibn Ali. Most Shi’ites are Twelvers, including the leadership of Iran.

Riyadh has suspended aid to Yemen, angered by the Houthis’ growing power, while Iran publicly welcomed the Houthi victory.

A senior Yemeni security official said Iran had steadily supported the Houthis, who have fought the central government since 2004 from their northern stronghold of Saadah.

As attacks continue between the Houthis and their domestic Sunni opponents, it could erupt into a larger sectarian war similar to what is raging in Iraq and Syria.

It is necessary to understand that the Shi’ite-Sunni dichotomy is key to understanding what is going on in the region, not only in Yemen, Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post.

Rabi refers to Israel’s “periphery doctrine” – the forming of alliances with surrounding non-Arab states and minorities in order to overcome hostility from neighboring Arab countries – in order to emphasize that this kind of thinking should be guiding Israel’s policy in the region and when it comes to a an Iranian takeover of Yemen.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the growing enmity of the Islamist AK Party in Turkey have contributed to an altered regional strategic map for Israel today.

“The saying – the enemy of my enemy can be my best friend – is really relevant,” said Rabi.

Asked if Israel could counter an Iranian-controlled Yemen by forging alliances with eastern African countries along the Red Sea, Rabi agrees and points out that a common denominator in the region that opposes Iranian hegemony could also perhaps include some kind of understanding with Saudi Arabia.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Arab parties now close to a united list, MK says

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
December 22, 2014


The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25% of the vote has forced the parties to band together in order to win seats.



Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Balad head Jamal Zahalka showed optimism on Sunday saying the Arab parties would form a united bloc in the upcoming elections despite less enthusiasm from others.

“I hope that within a week or two we will decide to unite the Arab political parties,” Zahalka told Army Radio in an interview.

Zahalka said that his party was not planning on running alone and that the talks are progressing to create a joint list, which will be good for the Arab public.

Asked about how Arab parties with different ideologies can unite, Zahalka played down differences responding that each party can keep its ideology, but together push for specific common goals.

“Ninety-five percent of the time we vote the same way,” he said referring to the three Arab parties.

The parties – United Arab List-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad – have been unable to close a deal to run together, much less agree on who would lead the new grouping for elections scheduled on March 17.

The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25% of the vote has forced the parties to band together in order to win seats.

Hadash MK Dov Henin was interviewed on Army Radio following the Balad head, and showed considerably less enthusiasm over a united list. He emphasized poll numbers that show Balad would fail to make it into the Knesset on its own while Hadash would get 5 seats.

Henin stressed the need to bring more Jews into the mix in order to fight “racism,” which could be an alternative solution, making unity a Jewish-Arab issue as opposed to only an Arab one.

A knowledgeable political source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Zahalka is “pushing for unity and spreading disinformation” even though negotiations are not progressing smoothly because Balad is pressured by polls showing that it will not make it into the next Knesset.

To read the entire article click here.