Will prominent Arab Israeli lawmaker Haneen Zoabi be the next mayor of Nazareth? 15Aug13 August 15, 2013

Haaretz    -    14 August 2013

3375716109Arab cities and villages across Israel have seen an awakening recently with the end of Ramadan, the end of the summer break, and the upcoming mayoral elections, set for October 22. Unlike the Knesset elections, which many people stay away from, voter turnout in local elections is usually very high, reaching 95 percent in some places.

So far, local campaigns have been fairly calm; it seems like many local authorities are trying not to cause political storms at such an early stage. This is certainly the case in Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city, seen by many as one of the most complex cities when it comes to local elections. This is because it is the capital of the Arab sector, and the bastion of all Arab political parties.

Nazareth has more than 80,000 inhabitants, of whom roughly 55,000 are eligible to vote. Since 1975, it has been controlled by the left-wing party Hadash, which has not yet begun its election campaign. This is because its mayor, Ramiz Jaraisy, incumbent since 1994, announces at every opportunity that he will not run again, even though his party has yet to field another candidate, and there is still no realistic alternative to him. In conversation with Haaretz, Jaraisy reiterated his position, saying that Hadash had the ability to field new candidates both for mayor and for the municipal council. The prevailing assessments in Nazareth are that Jaraisy will run in the next election, but that he will resign toward the end of his term. Once he resigns, people predict, he will pass the mantle to a deputy mayor from the faction who will remain in the position and then run in the 2018 elections.

Ali Salem, who has been Jaraisy’s deputy for the past few years, announced that he was leaving the faction and would be running on an independent list. But a new face has emerged that could really stir up the campaign: prominent Balad Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, an opinionated and controversial figure. Several months ago, Zoabi announced she was considering running for mayor of Nazareth, and on Tuesday a local website reported that she had made her decision, and was set to announce her candidacy.

However, Balad officials said the party has not discussed the matter, or given Zoabi its blessing. If elected, Zoabi will have to resign from the Knesset. If she does indeed run, she will be the second Knesset member to run for a mayoral post in the next elections, the first being Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, who is running for mayor of Tel Aviv against long-time incumbent Ron Huldai. If she wins, Zoabi will be the first female mayor of an Arab city.

Zoabi told Haaretz on Tuesday that she has yet to make her decision, and that she is considering it carefully. While the last Knesset elections gave Balad momentum, with increased support in Nazareth, this was not the kind of massive support that could help win an election.

“We’re considering our moves very well and studying the matter and all its implications,” said Balad’s secretary-general, Awad Abdel Fattah.

A third player in the Nazareth campaign is the Islamic Movement. Two locals who are active on Nazareth’s political scene, Tawfiq Abu Ahmed and Salman Abu Ahmed, announced their intention to run as candidates for the Islamic Movement and its allies in the city, but it is not clear whether they will reach an agreement for one of them to withdraw in the other’s favor by September 16, when contenders must formally declare their candidacy.

The answer to the question of whether or not the Islamic Movement will field a single candidate or split could affect the decisions of Jaraisy and Zoabi.

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