Israeli-Arab Knesset Member (MK) and leader of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance, Ayman Odeh, has said that he would consider joining a government led by Blue and White (Kahol Lavan)’s Benny Gantz if the latter will grant concessions for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Speaking in an interview with Israeli newspaper the Times of Israel, Odeh said that he was open to joining a Gantz-led government should the ex-Chief of Staff win the upcoming election on 9 April, if that meant ousting incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party.
However, Odeh qualified his support for Gantz by saying that he would not recommend him to form a government if he did not receive clear commitments from Gantz in return. Odeh’s demands include a willingness to debate with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in peace negotiations, greater budget allocations for Palestinian towns within Israel, and for the Nation-State Law – which last year declared Israel the “national home of the Jewish people” and effectively rendered Palestinian citizens of Israel second-class citizens – to be cancelled.
Odeh explained that “[Hadash-Ta’al] hope[s] to influence decision-making and we do not want to permit the creation of another extremist government led by Netanyahu that constantly incites against us”. He continued:
We would be willing to recommend Gantz and [Blue and White co-leader Yair] Lapid to [Israeli President Reuven] Rivlin to stop the formation of a right-wing government, but they need to show us they are willing to negotiate peace with the Palestinian leadership, support equality for all citizens including Arabs, increase budgets to the local authorities in Arab villages and cancel the nation-state law.
How Odeh’s willingness to join a Gantz government, albeit with conditions, will be interpreted is as yet unclear.
On the one hand, the addition of Hadash-Ta’al’s predicted seven to nine seats will be a much-needed boost to Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, should he win the election and be given the first shot at forming a government. Though Gantz has been riding a wave of popularity in recent weeks – buoyed by the announcement that Netanyahu will be charged with three counts of corruption and a number of high profile acquisitions to his alliance – the latest poll shows a dip in support for his centre-left platform and a resurgence of the right-wing bloc.
Whether Gantz would be willing to make the concessions demanded by Odeh is also open for debate. Gantz has vowed to “fix” the Nation-State Law, but has focused attention primarily on Israel’s Druze community – who were also adversely affected by the law – rather than Palestinian citizens of Israel.
However, Gantz has made several election pledges which will not sit well with Odeh’s other demands, including to use the Jordan Valley – which lies deep in occupied Palestinian territory – as Israel’s border, maintain Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements and to “separate” from the Palestinians.
Gantz has also used a number of questionable tactics in his election campaign which Hadash-Ta’al will find difficult to reconcile, most notably boasting of bombing the besieged Gaza Strip “back to the stone age” during Israel’s 2014 assault on the coastal enclave. Odeh for his part has been vocal about Gazans’ suffering, particularly in light of the Great March of Return in which hundreds of Palestinians have been shot and tens of thousands wounded.
Palestinian citizens of Israel may, therefore, be uncomfortable with the prospect of their political representative joining such a government. On the other hand, however, in January a poll of Palestinian citizens showed that many would be willing to join a ruling coalition in exchange for more political influence, even if that meant joining a right-wing government. Sixty-four per cent of those polled said that they would support such a move, with this figure rising to 68 per cent if the option of joining a centre-left government were put forward.
Much of this willingness stems from dissatisfaction with the predominantly Arab-Israeli parties who formerly made up the Joint List. Though the Joint List performed well in the 2015 election – gaining 82 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel’s vote and winning 13 Knesset seats to become the third-largest party – in the four years since their performance has been interpreted as “disappointing”.
This disillusionment will have been further compounded by the Israel Election Committee’s decision last week to ban the other Israeli-Arab alliance, Ra’am-Balad, from this year’s election race. The move has been seen as a deliberate attempt to quash parties which lobby for Palestinian interests and cooperation between Jewish and Arab-Israelis. The ban is pending a Supreme Court verdict, scheduled for later this week.