Apr 17 2015

New Arab MK jockeys for influence on women’s issues, budget

Published by at 12:43 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

The strong showing by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the March 17 Knesset elections, winning an unprecedented 13 seats, has revived hope that the 20% Arab population in Israel can have a strong influence on the workings of the state.

Aida Tuma, one of two Arab women elected to the Knesset, told Al-Monitor that the 13-member Joint List of predominantely Arab parties is expected to wield serious influence in the Knesset committees, saying, “We want to be active in a way to have a genuine positive effect on our people.” Tuma is a member of Hadash, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, who joined Knesset member Ahmad Tibi in the temporary finance committee.

Committee selection usually awaits the formation of the government, but until then, two temporary committees are formed: one for foreign relations and security and the other for finance. “We chose to take two seats in the finance committee because we are sure that if we go for the foreign relations and security committee, they will not allow us to have any effect by moving all-important topics to subcommittees of which we are not members,” Tuma told Al-Monitor by phone on her way to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian leadership.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud won an unexpected 30 mandates, is having a hard time forming a narrow coalition. Israeli media reports say that he prefers a unity government with the Zionist bloc, with 25 seats headed by Isaac Herzog. To pass a confidence vote, Israeli governments need at least 61 mandates out of 120 members of the Knesset.

Tuma said that everyone is waiting to see who will be in the government and who will be in opposition. She noted that her colleagues Dov Shenin and Tibi are members of the organizational committee, which will haggle over who will be on and chair of the various committees. The 13-member Arab coalition would like to head at least one committee. Tuma knows that this will be a tough battle and will depend in part on whether the Zionist bloc is part of the government or the opposition, saying, “If Herzog joins the government, then we will have a better chance of picking up influential seats in the Knesset’s 12 committees.”

The committees that the Joint List would like to have members on or chair are the finance, interior, education, social affairs and state comptroller committees. She said, “It is unlikely that the government will allow us to head or influence the interior or finance committees, but we have a chance at gaining the chair of the important state comptroller committee.”

A much more important issue to be settled once a ruling coalition is formed will be who will head the opposition to the next government of Israel. Traditionally, the list with the highest number of members not in the government normally heads the coalition, but this is apparently not guaranteed, according to Tuma.

The Joint List, which won 13 seats, is the third largest after the Likud’s 30 and the Zionist Camp’s 24. If the Zionist Camp joins the government, then the three main opposition groups will need to agree among themselves on who will head the opposition. This means that Meretz or Yesh Atid would need to support the Joint List for the list’s leader Ayman Odeh to officially become the head of the opposition.

Tuma thinks this could be a moment of truth for the State of Israel and especially for the opposition parties, saying, “It is unclear whether they will give us the privilege and the legitimacy to be the official head of the opposition.” The opposition leader in Israel regularly meets with visiting heads of state and is given privileged information, especially on the topics of war and peace.

The Joint List angered the leftist Zionist Mertez movement because the Arabs refused to sign an agreement with them about sharing excess votes. “I think that the problem with Meretz is behind us,” Tuma said. She added that the media exaggerated the story about major disagreements with the leftist Mertetz that had developed shortly before the elections when center-to-left blocs seemed to have a good chance of winning.

Tuma, who headed Women Against Violence, an organization dedicated to defending Arab women in Israel, said that if she can, she would also like to be a member of the committee that works on women’s issues. But her top priority is the finance committee. She told Al-Monitor, “This is the committee that will debate the national budget as well as how the budget is spent. I hope to be able to help improve the status of the Arab population in Israel.”


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