by Tamara Santos Traubmann

JERUSALEM Pat Tillman Womens Jersey , March 12 (Xinhua) -- A coalition of formerly-squabbling Arab parties is emerging as a surprising force in the upcoming Israeli elections, inspiring hopes that the Jewish state will be forced to alter its policies against this large national minority.

The latest polls reveal that the Joint Arab List could win 10 percent of the votes, which means 13 seats in Israel's 120-member Knesset (parliament).

"For the first time in history, we will be the third largest faction in the Knesset," Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, told Xinhua. "It will be impossible to continue to ignore us T. J. Logan Womens Jersey ," he added.

In Taibe, an Arab town of 40,000 residents in central Israel, huge banners of the Joint List are decorating the main square.

Nesrin Jabara, a 30-year-old student and mother of four, whose niqab covers her entire face except her eyes, says that many see the newly-formed unity as an unprecedented opportunity to increase Arabs' influence in parliament in order to protect their rights.

"Usually I don't vote Chad Williams Womens Jersey , but this time I'll go, because I want our voices to be heard," she told Xinhua.


Arab citizens of Israel are descendants of the Palestinians who did not leave their land during the 1948 war of Israel's creation, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled to neighboring Arab states. Today, many of them live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Those who stayed put received Israeli citizenship. However, official figures indicate huge inequalities between Arabs and Jews, including in average income and state allocations for health Markus Golden Womens Jersey , education and housing services. Around half of the Arab population lives below the poverty line.

"The Palestinian citizens of Israel are marginalized," Parliament member Jamal Zahalka of the Joint Arab List told Xinhua.

"So when we are united, we will acquire added seats in parliament, hence more power, more influence and the Israeli establishment will be obliged to listen to us," he added.

Odeh, of the Joint Arab List D.J. Humphries Womens Jersey , said that while Israeli law bestows equal rights to Jewish and Arab citizens, in practice "Arabs are treated as second-class citizens."

"Our aim is to eradicate second-class citizens status -- Arabs or Jews," he said.


Launched in January, the Joint List includes representatives from across the political spectrum, from the Arab-Jewish socialist party to the Islamic Movement. Arab parties were never part of the governing coalitions of Israel, and that is not likely to change now.

However, in Israel's parliamentary system Budda Baker Womens Jersey , voters vote for parties rather than for individual candidates, and the prime minster would be the one able to form a wider coalition and not necessarily the one who won the majority of the votes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the central-left Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog, are running neck and neck for the March 17 elections, which means every seat counts.

"Our goal is to take Mr. Netanyahu down," Zahalka said. "His refusal to end the occupation brought us to a political deadlock... but we are not guaranteed supporters of Mr. Herzog yet."

Israel's 1.7 million Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population but never had much influence in the political arena.

Arab voter turnout fell dramatically in the 2001 elections. Only 18 percent of the eligible voters went to the ballots, after 13 Arab citizens were killed by Israeli security forces during violent clashes a year earlier.

In the 2013 elections Haason Reddick Womens Jersey , voter turnout in Arab society reached 57 percent, winning Arab parties 11 seats, but still considerably lower than the national average of 67 percent.

This time around, Odeh said, the Arab parties aim to get 15 seats.

Many are hopeful that more Arabs will vote next week.

"I think this time the turnout will be higher," said Shadi, a 45-year-old businessman from Taibe Chase Edmonds Womens Jersey , who didn't want to share his last name. "This time it's different. People see a chance for change. They have hope. They feel pride."

A poll released Tuesday by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation and Tel Aviv University showed that Arab turnout could reach approximately 65 percent, the highest rate seen over the past 16 years.

"Support for the Joint Arab List is very impressive," Itamar Radai, academic director of the Adenauer Program, told The Times of Israel.

"Unlike in the past, the Arab public believes it can become an effective player in Israeli politics," he said. "The trend of decreasing (Arab) voter turnout has probably ended Mason Cole Womens Jersey , as a new spirit of optimism prevails."

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