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Israel’s Islamic Movement, in Shift, Urges Arabs to Vote in Elections

Israel’s influential Islamic movement, in a sharp break with past dogma, is urging the country’s Arab citizens to go to the polls and vote in the June 23 Knesset elections.

That was the word sent out Tuesday by Sheik Abdullah Nimer Darwish, the Islamic spiritual leader from Kufer Kassem village near Petach Tikva. It may mark the start of a process that one day could profoundly alter Israel’s political scene.

Darwish told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency “It is a historic hour.”

“When the majority of Israelis take part in the election, I don’t want to sit at home. I want to take part in the action,” he said.

In past years, the Islamic movement has boycotted Israeli elections to demonstrate its refusal to acknowledge the Zionist state. The change of position indicated that the movement now feels strong enough to participate in the political process and exert some influence on its outcome.

Darwish in fact intimated that the movement might run as an independent party in the next Knesset elections four years hence, or as part of a larger coalition of Arab political groups.

For the time being, Islamic leaders are deeply disappointed by the failure of the two Arab splinter parties to a agree on a common list for next month’s elections.

Together, they could have proven a formidable force. The 309,000 Israeli Arabs expected to vote in the coming election account for about 12 percent of the electorate, the equivalent of 13 Knesset seats.

Had the Arabs been united behind one party, political observers say, that party could have become the third major political power in the country.

After prolonged negotiations, the Arab Democratic Party headed by Abd-el Wahab Darousha, and the Progressive List for Peace, led by Mohammed Miari, decided this week to go their separate ways.

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