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Israel Political Parties: United Arab List (Ra’am)

The United Arab List (Hebrew?????? ????? ?????; Arabic??????? ??????? ??????? ) is an Israeli political party represented and supported by Israeli Arabs and enjoys particular popularity among the Bedouin population.

Also known as Ra’am (the transliteration of the Hebrew acronym), and in the 2015 election Wamab, the party was formed prior to the 1996 general elections as a coalition of the Bedouin-based Arab National Democratic Party and the Islamic Movement. Its platforms holds the following: Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital and the dismantlement of all Israeli settlements; the “Right of return“ to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants; separation of religion and state; that Arabs should not be recruited to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (Israeli Arabs are currently exempt from compulsory military service); and, an increase in the budget for subsidizing all holy places belonging to the Muslims, Christians and Druze.

In that election, the United Arab List won 89,514 votes - a total of 3% - and was awarded four seats in the 14th Knesset.

In the following election in 1999, Ra’am won an even more impressive 114,810 votes and was awarded five Knesset seats. Internal disagreements, however, led three of its top members to leave and form a new party, the Arab National Party, and as a result Ra’am lost support and only won 2 seats in the 2003 elections.

In 2006, Ra’am merged with Ta’al, an Arab party led by Ahmed Tivi, in order to bolster its support base. In the 2006 election, the newly merged party won four seats, of which three were filled by the United Arab List and one by Ta’al.

In January 2009, the Israeli Central Elections Committee banned Ra’am, Ta’al and Balad (another Arab-Israeli party) from running in the elections, accusing them of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The Supreme Court subsequently revoked the ban allowing the party to stand in the elections. Thus Ra’am-Ta’al was kept in 2009 and it garnered enough votes for four seats, against splitting 3 and 1 with Ahmed Tibi of Ta’al.

In the January 2013 elections, Ra’am-Ta’al remained united and won five seats in the Knesset, making the party the largest Arab party represented in the Israeli government.

Israel’s major Arab political parties Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al signed an agreement on January 21, 2015, with the Arab-Jewish Hadash Party and the Islamic Movement to run on a single ticket headed by Hadash leader Ayman Odeh. The decision of the often fracticious parties to unite was prompted by the recent change in election law rising the threshhold for representation from 2 percent to 3.25 percent, which would make it difficult for the smaller individual parties to win seats. In that election, the list won 13 seats, making it the third largest party in the 20th Knesset behind winner Likud and the Zionist Union ticket.

Following increased violence by Palestinians against Israelis in October and November 2015, and the November 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks, the Israeli government outlawed the Islamic Movement in Israel, a member of the Joint List, accusing it’s members of having a hand in inciting violence. The Israeli government accused the Islamic Movement party of encouraging violence during late 2015, by continuously spreading false accusations that the Israeli government was plotting to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque and not allow Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount. Police raided over a dozen offices of organizations affiliated with the Islamic Movement in the days following the decision, seizing files and computers as well as freezing bank accounts. At the time of the decision, it was estimated that the Islamic Movement in Israel was comprised of 20,000 members, though it’s support is estimated to be much broader.

In 2019, the party decided to run on a joint list with Balad. The Central Elections Committee disqualified the new list; however, on March 17, the Supreme Court overruled the Committee.

After the poor showing of the two Arab slates in the April 2019 election, the four Arab parties decided to reunite as a Joint List, hoping to increase the 13 seats it won in 2015. One key to success will be Arab voter turnout, which dropped from 63 percent to 50 percent. Ayman Odeh will top the list. Turnout did increase to more than 59 percent and the list did again secure 13 seats.

In the September 2019 election, the list did even better, winning 15 seats and becoming the third largest party in the Knesset, Arab parties have never joined governing coalitions in Israel, but Odeh endorsed the idea of supporting Kahol Lavan to oust Prime Minister Netanyahu.

When Netanyahu was unable to form a government, a new election was called for March 2020. The list again won 15 seats.

Prior to the 2021 election, the four parties could not agree on a common platform and the United Arab List split from them.

After winning four seats in 2021 (the Joint List of the other three Arab parties won six), Ra’am suddenly found itself in the position of kingmaker as neither the Netanyahu bloc nor the “change bloc” had enough votes to form a government. Netanyahu, who was openly hostile toward the Arab parties and the idea of them being part of any government, suddenly began courting party leader Mansour Abbas. Ultimately, Abbas agreed to join the opposition bloc led by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and made history when he became the first Arab Israeli party leader in half a century to sign a deal to sit in a coalition government.

Abbas said he wants to focus on several issues that will benefit Arab society, including the housing crisis and municipal status for unrecognized localities in the Negev. He also wants to reverse, or at least temporarily suspend, a law that facilitates the demolition of primarily Arab homes built in violation of code. To join the government Ra’am secured promises of $16.3 billion for economic development, fighting violence and organized crime in Arab society, and fixing infrastructure in Arab cities and towns. Three unrecognized Bedouin villages will also be legalized.

“For decades, Arab Israelis have been without any influence. Now, everyone knows that we’re the deciding votes as far as politics goes,” said Ra’am lawmaker Walid Taha.

At the Globes Business Conference in December 2021, Abbas was asked: “Israel is a state without a constitution and without borders, but it is a Jewish state. Can you accept that as an Arab?” Abbas answered: “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. It is the decision of the people and the question is not what the identity of the state is. It was born this way and will remain that way.”

The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was regarded as an exceptional and important statement by an Israeli Arab leader, especially one from an Islamist party. 

Abbas added: “The question is how to integrate Arab society into it … there is no doubt that we are on the threshold of a new era, and I say this cautiously and hope that the process will succeed and that the coalition-level partnership will be a trend towards more different partnerships in the industry and more.”

Sources: The Israel Project.
Hadid, Diaa. “Ayman Odeh Arab alliance rises as force in Israel vote,” New York Times (March 16, 2015).
Federman, Joseph. “Israel outlaws Islamist group accused of inciting violence,” Washington Post (November 17, 2015).
Yonah Jeremy Bob, “High Court Disqualifies Ben-Ari; Rules Ben-Gvir, All Arab Parties Eligible,” Jerusalem Post, (March 17, 2019).
Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Israel’s Do-over Election: A Guide to All the Parties and Who Holds the Keys to the Next Government,” Haaretz, (July 31, 2019).
Jonathan Lis, “Labor Party, Meretz Announce Merger Ahead of Israel Election,” Haaretz, (January 13, 2020).
Jack Khoury, “Alliance of Israeli Arab Parties to Split Ahead of March Election,” Haaretz, (January 27, 2021).
Aaron Boxerman, “History made as Arab Israeli Ra’am party joins Bennett-Lapid coalition,” Times of Israel, (June 3, 2021).
“Mansour Abbas accepts Israel as Jewish State,” BICOM, (December 22, 2021).