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Israel election: Joint List head says ‘willing’ to join Gantz government, is quickly rebuked

Ayman Odeh (R) member of the Knesset and head of the Joint List
Ayman Odeh, member of the Knesset and head of the Joint List

Head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh has said that he will consider joining a government led by Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) leader Benny Gantz, a prospect which was quickly rebuked by the latter’s Knesset Members (MKs) and members of the Joint List alike.

In an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth – a preview of which was published in Hebrew today and which will be released in full tomorrow – the veteran MK said that he would be willing to join a Gantz-led government under “specific conditions”.

Odeh divided these conditions into four categories: planning and construction; violence; welfare; and politics. Of the first condition, Odeh stressed that a Gantz-led government must repeal the Kaminitz Law, which in 2017 made it easier for the Israeli state to demolish Palestinians homes and force the beleaguered family to pay the demolition costs.

On welfare, Odeh demanded that any centre-left government the Joint List might join must commit to constructing public hospitals in Arab-Israeli cities, raising pensions and providing extra funding to assist victims of gender-based violence. The government must also work to reduce crime levels and violence in Palestinian towns.

Odeh also emphasised that his support for any government was conditioned upon the abolition of the Nation-State Law, which last year declared Israel the “national home of the Jewish people” and effectively rendered its 1.8 million Palestinians second-class citizens.

“We will only be a government partner if Palestinian citizens are no longer second-class citizens,” Odeh cautioned, also stressing that the government must renew peace negotiations with the Palestinian factions in the occupied territories.

The Joint List leader also added in a Facebook post today that the government must end its now 52-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, presumably along 1967 lines.

 

Odeh conceded during the Yedioth interview that the prospect of any government accepting these conditions is slim, but noted that his comments should be seen as a “statement of intent”.

READ: Joint List launches election campaign to fight Arab community’s ‘double exclusion’

His suspicion was well founded; Blue and White MKs have today quickly rebuked Odeh’s offer of collaboration, refusing to sit with the predominantly-Palestinian parties.

Kahol Lavan MK Yoaz Hendel said this morning: “Blue and White will establish a broad and state-oriented nationalist unity government. We respect the Arab citizens of Israel and see them as citizens entitled to all rights, but we will not sit with the Arab parties, which fundamentally deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Period.”

Party number two Yair Lapid echoed Hendel’s comments, acknowledging in an interview with Israel’s Kan Bet radio that Palestinian citizens faced a number of challenges but laying the blame squarely with the community’s leadership.

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“They have real problems that haven’t been dealt with for years, because, among other reasons, they have awful political representation. Ayman Odeh should take a look at his own house and see who he’s let in before he tries to run coalition negotiations.”

Lapid also said that Blue and White could not sit with Odeh’s Hadash party while it formed part of an alliance which includes Balad, a Palestinian nationalist faction of the Joint List alliance. “[Balad] is a group of Israel haters who do not recognize the Jewish State,” Lapid said of the party.

READ: Israel opposition’s Gantz vows to ‘pound’ Gaza as prime minister

Odeh’s comments also sparked controversy within the Joint List. Though the party leader stressed in the interview that the views expressed were his own and not those of the alliance, Balad leader Mtanes Shehadeh quickly released a statement rejecting Odeh’s remarks.

“In my opinion, [Odeh] doesn’t even represent Hadash. I recommend that Ayman does not chase the dream to placate the Israeli left and take back his decision,” Shehadeh’s statement read.

Meanwhile Ta’al leader Ahmad Tibi supported Odeh’s position, saying in a statement that “we aspire to as much influence as possible by means of an obstructive bloc, if [Blue and White] comes to us. We will hear the demands of the Arab public on economic, social, policy and national issues.”

Dr Ahmad Tibi seen at Middle East Monitor's 'Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation' conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Dr Ahmad Tibi seen at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Tibi did, however, concede that joining a coalition would be “a utopia that does not exist, and is not on the agenda in the shadow of the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. “Kahol Lavan and Gantz are not our cup of tea,” he added, saying “they are far from our demands and are even aspiring towards a unity government with Likud.”

READ: Prominent Arab-Israeli lawmaker Zoabi to be indicted for corruption

Although Israeli media has portrayed Odeh’s comments as representing a “historic shift” in his attitude, in fact this is not the first time the MK has offered to join a centre-left government but has been swiftly rejected.

Prior to Israel’s April election, Odeh said that he was open to the prospect of joining a Gantz-led government if the Blue and White head was willing to meet his demands. Odeh again stressed that his conditions were 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 to be cancelled.

Though Gantz did not rebuke Odeh’s overtures directly, just a day later he vowed only to sit in government with “Jewish and Zionist” allies, effectively ruling out the prospect of any cooperation with the Joint List.

Gantz’s comments were seen as a desperate attempt to distance his party from the Arab-Israeli parties in a bid to appeal to more right-wing voters, who he hoped to pry away from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Netanyahu frequently tried to paint Gantz as a “leftist” who would work with the Arab-Israeli parties, a tactic he has once again employed in the run up to September’s do-over election.

READ: Likud joins ‘racist effort’ to have Joint List disqualified

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