Members of the Balad and Hadash parties condemned the GCC today for declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The condemnation, which drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Knesset members, is puzzling. Why issue a statement of support for a group that shoots rockets at Israeli civilians, both Jewish and Arab? Why should Sunni parliamentarians condemn a Sunni coalition for calling an Iran-linked Shi'a group a terrorist organization?" Why make a comment at all given the domestic challenges Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank face?
The comments come in the wake of several incendiary events involving the Joint List. In February, three Arab MKs were suspended after meeting with the families of terrorists over negotiations to release their bodies. Last week, the head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, accused Israel's Shin Bet of killing Yasser Arafat, a claim which extensive investigations have not substantiated. The Israeli media have covered these statements, understandably, within a narrative framework of incitement and radicalism within the Arab parties. However, there are more specific explanations that can explain today's reaction over the GCC's labeling of Hezbollah.
Domestically, internal party politics may be driving some these radical statements. MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is from Hadash. The Joint List also includes Balad, whose founder Amzi Bishara is accused of passing intelligence to Hezbollah during the 2006 war. While Balad and Hadash are part of same list at the moment, they have different histories and platforms. Balad sees Israel's exclusion of Arab citizens as illegitimate and seeks a bi-national state. Hadash is rooted in Israel's first communist party and has a more policy-focused agenda (withdrawal from the West Bank, worker's rights, and equality for Arab citizens). While Balad's members have never feared being controversial, it is noteworthy that their statements of late have demolished any chance of the Joint List joining the government. The question of joining has been raised in the recent past, and Ayman Odeh has pursued a somewhat less radical agenda than his Balad counterparts. A Balad strategy of making controversial statements spoils any chance that the Joint List would join - and thus legitimize - the current government.
For MK Odeh, maintaining Balad's support is critical for a Joint List that can have policy influence. In this context, siding with Balad MKs on Hezbollah shows alignment. It is also consistent with Hadash's international communist platform since it sees Hezbollah as "resistance." Tunisia's UGTT workers union condemned the news on the same grounds. Furthermore, since Jewish Israelis condemn Arab parties all the time, they likely perceive the cost of public scorn as relatively low so long as it builds support among their electoral constituency.
Regionally, the Joint List may fear that the GCC's decision to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization further normalizes GCC-Israel relations. Normalization is a process that Palestinian activists oppose on the grounds that it reduces pressure on Israel to change its West Bank policies. If the GCC is seeking regional alignment with Israel to balance against Iran, it is less likely to speak out on Palestinian rights issues. Condemning the decision plays well with supporters of Palestinian rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza who fear that the issue is being drowned out in light of the plethora of other problems in the region.
In addition, a more sectarian region hurts Arab unity. The Palestinian situation as a pan-Arab issue is inextricably connected to this unity. So long as sectarianism persists in the region, the logic goes, Arab states can never join together to force a solution to the conflict. Since the GCC's declaration of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is on sectarian grounds, such a move harms the unity that is key to solving the Palestinian problem.