Leader of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance Benny Gantz yesterday said that he would only form a government with "Jewish and Zionist" allies, effectively ruling out the possibility of cooperating with Israeli-Arab parties.
Speaking at a rally in the southern city of Beersheba, Gantz said that his party wants "as many people as possible to join us in government" and that the party is "looking at lots of potential partners," the Times of Israel reported.
However, Gantz then went on to say that Blue and White has "no limitations on working with anyone," before adding the caveat: "Anyone who is Jewish and Zionist, who isn't an extremist, and who will work for the good of Israel."
Gantz's comments will be interpreted as indication that he is unwilling to join forces with Israel's four predominantly Arab parties, now running on two lists: Hadash-Ta'al and Ra'am-Balad. This comes just a day after the leader of Hadash-Ta'al, Ayman Odeh, expressed his interest in working with Gantz if this meant ousting incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party from government.
Odeh did not promise his support for Gantz unconditionally but rather stressed that he would do so only in return for concessions benefitting Israel's some 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. Among Odeh's demands were Gantz's 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.
Gantz's pledge to seek "Jewish and Zionist" allies is most likely a reaction to Netanyahu's claims that the former Chief of Staff could only form a government with the support of Israeli-Arab parties. Last week Netanyahu launched the slogan "it's either Bibi or Tibi" – referring to head of the Ta'al party Ahmad Tibi – in a bid to stir right-wing fears of Israeli-Arab parties joining a "leftist" coalition.
Netanyahu's tactics are tried and tested; during the 2015 election campaign, Netanyahu urged Jewish-Israeli voters to vote Likud to counter Palestinian voters who were heading to the ballot box "in droves". The last-minute comment is thought to have won Netanyahu the election but drew widespread criticism for its anti-Palestinian rhetoric.
Though Gantz's thinly-veiled rejection of Israeli-Arab parties stopped short of Netanyahu's explicit scaremongering, its underlying message bears striking similarity. However, Gantz's apparent refusal to work with Israeli-Arab parties could prove disastrous for his election prospects. 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 of his centre-left platform and a resurgence of the right-wing bloc.
The addition of Hadash-Ta'al's predicted seven to nine seats would, therefore, be a much-needed boost to the Blue and White alliance. The other Israeli-Arab alliance, Ra'am-Balad, is also expected to receive four to six seats if it is allowed to contest the election.
Ra'am-Balad is currently appealing to Israel's Supreme Court against last week's decision by the Election Committee to ban it from electoral participation. The ban came after right-wing committee members claimed the alliance seeks to "eliminate Israel as a Jewish state" and supports "violent Palestinian resistance and [Lebanon's] Hezbollah". For its part, Ra'am-Balad has vehemently denied these claims, labelling the ban "a political, racist and populist decision aimed to deliver a blow to the political representation of Arab citizens [of Israel]".
By ruling out working with these parties, Gantz could find himself unable to garner the 61 seats needed to form a majority government in the 120-seat Knesset after 9 April.