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chasing the Palestinian-Israeli vote (haaretz)

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  • Linda Grant
    The Peretz challenge to Arab politics By Dan Rabinowitz Amir Peretz is interested in Arab votes. The day after his victory over Peres, when he
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
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      The Peretz challenge to Arab politics By Dan Rabinowitz Amir Peretz is interested in Arab votes. The day after his victory over Peres, when he paid pilgrimage to Rabin's tomb and found himself surrounded by camera crews, he asked "where's the Arab camera," turned to it and made solidarity with the Arab citizens of Israel one of his first public messages.

      There is no doubt that the speed with which he created a political opposition, the stability of his dovish stance regarding a Palestinian state and his origins in an Arab country give him an unprecedented lead among Palestinian citizens of Israel. Between 1949 and 1977, the Labor Party, through its Arab satellite parties, won on average between 50 percent and 60 percent of the Arab vote. Only in the 1980s did three processes erode its relevance in the sector.

      The first was the crystallization of the Palestinian identity of the Arabs in Israel. The second was the growth of new parties that gave authentic political expression to that identity. And the third was the annoying similarity that developed between Labor and Likud regarding political issues such as Lebanon, the first intifada, an agreement with the Palestinians and the second intifada, as well as socio-economic issues.

      Advertisement The interest Peretz is showing in the Palestinian citizens of Israel comes at a critical time for Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List, which all have complex relationships with their voters.

      On the one hand, Arab MKs over the years have become more resolved and effective expressing Palestinian identity and the national Palestinian struggle. On the other hand, the glass ceiling blocking their ability to achieve practical improvements in their community's condition has only thickened since 1996, and their ability to translate electoral strength into tangible achievements continue to pale in comparison to the ultra-Orthodox and Russian parties.

      The zero influence they have over Israeli political maneuvers raises heretical notions among some of their supporters. In past elections, that ambivalence showed up in substantially declining voting rates. Peretz's success will apparently - at least partially - depend on his ability to bring despairing Arab voters back to the polls.

      The young, "proud and erect" generation isn't interested yet in the pragmatic option that Peretz offers. It will continue to vote to express their Palestinian identity. The potential Peretz voters are middle aged, mostly Hadash voters, but if indeed Hadash and Balad decide to go their separate ways, Hadash voters will face an interesting situation: Peretz is running on a social ticket nearly identical to that of Hadash.

      On the Palestinian issue, all the parties, from Hadash on the left to Shinui at the far right of the center, agree on a two-state solution. That leaves Hadash only one issue unique to it - Jewish-Arab cooperation. The need to highlight that issue to prevent leakage to the Labor Party should persuade the Hadash leadership, gathering in another month, to placed a Jew in a realistic spot on their list of Knesset nominees and bid farewell to Ahmed Tibi. That could influence a large number of Arab voters to stay with Hadash, harming Peretz's chances in the community and influence in the final size of the Labor faction in the Knesset.

      Peretz has already marked out the line of attack against the Arab parties, when he counted them along with Shas and the Russian immigrant parties and argued that the nationalistic programs they've adopted have abandoned their supporters to poverty and distress. It will be interesting to watch the competition for the Arab vote intensify this struggle.

      On the other hand, maybe the time has come to turn things on their head. For 56 years, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been giving their votes to sweet-talking Israeli politicians, hoping that in the periodic tests the Jewish majority prepares for them their grades are good enough so that the Jews will agree to grant them equality, respect and resources. Maybe it is preferable for Peretz and Labor this time to restrain themselves and meanwhile not ask Arab voters to trust them.

      Let the Israeli politicians put themselves to the test, whether in opposition or in the coalition, and only after they grant Arabs what they deserve by right as citizens of the state and do what they can for peace can they go back to the voting stations in the Triangle and Galilee and ask for votes.

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