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Behind the Headlines Israeli Parties Court Arab Vote

Israeli Arabs are expected to vote in large numbers on election day July 23. Were all of them to vote for the same party, that party would gain 10 Knesset seats, becoming the third largest political body and thus affecting the formation of a coalition government.

So far, the Arab voters have never united behind one political party. But the potential that they might do so is attractive. The novelty of the current election campaign in the Arab sector is that at least four political parties are working hard to take advantage of that potential.

In the past, competition for the Arab vote was between the Communist Party, in its broader form of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE) –which includes non-Communist elements — and the Labor Alignment.

Between them they won seven “Arab” seats in 1981–four went to the DFPE and three to the Alignment. The other three “Arab ” seats were shared among the smaller parties.

ARABS DISENCHANTED WITH COMMUNISTS

On the eve of the present election campaign, the Alignment senses considerable disenchantment among Arab voters with the Communist Party. A repeated complaint among Israeli Arabs is that the Communists are too involved with high-brow politics, such as the struggle for a Palestinian state, and too little involved in looking after the interests of Israel’s Arabs citizens–ensuring their rights as equal citizens in the country–independent of the struggle for a Palestinian state.

The Alignment hopes to build on this frustration with the Communists. Its message is that a vote for the DFPE indirectly strengthens the Likud which is unpopular among Arab voters.

The Alignment promises that if it is returned to power, it would pay much more attention to the interests of the Arab population; and that as a ruling party it could do much more for them than the Communists who are considered outcasts by all Zionist parties.

This approach worked quite well in the last elections when Arab hopes to topple the Likud were so strong that many switched their votes from the DFPE to the Alignment. The Communists lost one Knesset seat in favor of Labor.

In the present election campaign, the situation is different. The Alignment is no longer the only alterna- tive to the Communists. The new choice is the Progressive List for Peace and Equality (PLPE), an Arab-Jewish coalition that shares the main demands of the DFPE for an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israel reduced to its pre-1967 borders, but stresses that it does not get its directives from Moscow.

The Communists and the new faction each claim to be more nationalistic than the other. Each party seeks the support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. During last week, 25 West Bank nationalist leaders came out in support of the DFPE. Yesterday, Communist Party leader Meir Wilner went to Geneva to meet with PLO chief Yasir Arafat to get his blessing for the DFPE.

In reaction, the PLPE quoted from earlier statements by Arafat that he supported them. Thus, two parties running for the Knesset claim to have the suppor of Arafat who, as far as Israel is concerned, is public enemy number one.

ARABS FLOCK TO HEAR NAVAN, WEIZMAN

In this atmosphere, former President Yitzhak Navon could consider his warm reception in Nazareth yesterday a pleasant surprise. Navon, fluent in Arabic, told the cheering crowd that if the Alignment came to power it would see to it that Arabs would be integrated into the administration, that young Arab couples would have an easier time finding decent housing, and that in general the situotion of the Arab minority would improve.

But for the first time in years, the Alignment finds that competition for the Arab vote is coming not only from the left but also from the right. Former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s Yahad list is reportedly being received warmly in Arab villages. Weizman himself visited the Arab village of Kufer Kara near Hadera last week and was received by an unprecedented crowd of 10,000 cheering Arabs who hailed him as the “hero of peace.”

Weizman may well be one of the main beneficiaries of the 10 “Arab” seats. Other leftist and liberal parties active within the Arab constituency are Shinui and the Citizens Rights Movement.

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