TAYBEH, Israel — A coalition of once fractious Arab parties is suddenly emerging as Israel’s newest power bloc, forcing the Jewish state to pay attention to its large Arab minority as never before.
If polls taken ahead of next week’s general election are accurate, Arab Israelis could end up heading the third-largest political faction in Israel’s next parliament, giving a voice to the often-sidelined Arab population.
It’s a remarkable twist of fate for Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs, who make up roughly 20 percent of the country’s population and have never had much political clout.
It could also mean that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arab Muslim, Christian, Druze and even Jewish politicians — representing ultra-religious Islamists, uber-secularists, liberals, nationalists, capitalists, socialists and communists — have succeeded in forming a united group.
Ironically, the coalition is a result of a move last year to increase the minimum number of votes a party needs to secure a place in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Some saw that change as an attempt to oust small Arab parties, but instead it prompted the fragmented and fairly powerless Arab leadership to unite under the banner of the Joint List.