by Edmund Owen
Diverse media sources indicate that the Jordanian government intends to encourage Israeli Arabs to vote in the November elections to prevent the return of Benjamin Netanyahu to office. Jordan is rumored to have recently had informal discussions with Muslim Brotherhood leaders to dissuade Raed Salah from skipping the elections, as the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has historically done.
Raed Salah, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and former leader of the northern Islamic Movement, was jailed in 2017 and again in 2020. He is a major religious and political figure. Despite being charged with *terrorist incitement,’ eight of the original twelve accusations against him were dropped, and his 28-month sentence reflected the 11 months he had been held awaiting trial. In December of 2021, he was freed from Megiddo jail.
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Salah, a prominent 64-year-old former mayor of Umm al-Fahm, is known as “Sheikh al-Aqsa” since he was jailed at a demonstration denouncing the installation of metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound’s outer gates following an incident there.
Middle East Eye, a controversial London-based online news outlet, reported on August 18 that Jordanian authorities had been attempting to engage with Raed Salah through the Muslim Brotherhood in an effort to convince him to urge his supporters to participate in the Israeli elections in November, or at least not encourage them to boycott them.
Bassam Badarin, a Jordanian journalist, said in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily a few weeks ago that he had been asked by Jordanian officials about the best approach to reach Salah. Badarin wrote recently, essentially confirming that the parties had been in contact. The main objective of the unofficial talks was to develop strategies to raise voter turnout among Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent in the November election.
According to Badarin, “Jordan’s goal is identical to that of Lapid and Washington, who do not want to see Netanyahu return to power because he represents a return to Trump’s rejected ‘deal of the century’.”
Nonetheless, Read Salah’s media office moved swiftly to dispel the rumor. “There is no truth to the media allegations that Jordan and Sheikh Raed Salah have communicated,” the statement declared. Our position is unambiguous: we favor a boycott of Israeli Knesset elections.
Logic suggests that Jordan’s King Abdullah would like Yair Lapid to return to government as Israel’s next prime minister, leading a coalition supported by Raam (the United Arab List) and other Israeli-Arab parties. However, it is difficult to believe that Abdullah would attempt to manipulate the Arab vote by appealing to Raed Salah. Raam, affiliated with the Islamic Movement’s southern branch in Israel, severed ties with Salah’s northern branch over the subject of Knesset membership and the Oslo Accords.
Shortly before the 2015 elections, the Joint List was formed by combining candidates from three Arab parties and the veteran Israeli party Hadash. The list won 13 seats in that election, 13 in 2019, and 15 in 2020. Before the elections of 2021, Raam left the alliance, won four seats, and joined the coalition government. The Joint List gained six seats and subsequently joined the opposition. Jordan may choose that its interests are best served by severing the remaining ties between the Joint List and Israel’s right-wing government.
Few would protest if Jordanians encouraged Israeli Arabs to vote in the upcoming elections. However, pushing them to vote for a specific party would be considered unethical interference in Israel’s democratic process. This part of the current media coverage of Jordan’s involvement is the most troubling.
Nonetheless, media evidence seems to point in this direction. Former general secretary of the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Zaki Bani Irsheed, is quoted as claiming that recent Jordanian activities derive from a desire to prevent Netanyahu’s return to power. He was alluding to Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’s diaspora office, and his recent travel to Jordan. Jordanian officials and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood emphasized that Meshaal’s unusual visit was strictly personal. Nonetheless, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman stated that this visit differed from others in that he “was permitted to speak with Jordanian political and media figures.”
There are also rumors that Jordan has attempted to contact Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam and deputy head of the Islamic movement’s southern chapter. According to one pundit, Mansour was recently King Abdullah’s guest twice. One was a formal visit, while the other was an unannounced rendezvous.”
In conclusion, Amman attempts to reconcile the remaining Joint List with Raam and the southern Islamic branch. Bringing Raed Salah on board seems like a lost cause. However, Jordan may still hope that a combined Arab political effort in the upcoming elections will push the political balance away from Netanyahu, Likud, and the Israeli right and toward Yair Lapid and whatever coalition he can cobble together. If a united, Lapid-supporting Joint List could win 15 Knesset seats in 2020, anything would be possible.