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Will Arab MKs turn Gantz into a dove of peace?

September 24, 2019 at 3:12 pm

A man rides a bicycle past a political campaign poster of former Israeli chief of staff Benny Gantz, in Jerusalem, on 28 January 2019. [THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images]

The Arab dominated Joint List on Sunday recommended the head of Israel’s Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party Benny Gantz to head the country’s next government in, what it claims, is an attempt to oust Likud party head and incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from his position.

This gives Gantz a boost which will help convince President Reuven Rivlin to choose him to form a new government; with 57 seats in his coalition, he is two seats ahead of Netanyahu. However, Balad, one of the four mainly Arab parties which compose the Joint List, announced it would not back Gantz, dropping the number of seats he holds to 54.

This complicated the political arena and saw Gantz and Netanyahu sitting together to reach a potential deal on a unity government and stopping Israelis heading to the polls for a third time.

Both Israeli leaders met with Rivlin at his residence yesterday and they were advised by him to solve the issue even if they agreed to a rotation regarding how long each would serve as head of government.

READ: The Joint List MKs have endorsed one form of colonisation over another

The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu had assured his religious right-wing political partners last night that he would stick to the agreements they had made together, while Gantz had told his coalition that he would not abandon his election promises and would oust Netanyahu from his post as prime minister

The Joint List’s recommendation of Gantz was not for free. The alliance set a number of conditions ahead of issuing their support, including the freeze of home demolitions in Arab villages, setting up a team to study the issue of the unrecognised villages and pushing for government action to fight crime in Israeli Arab communities.

It also called for the abolition of the Nation-State Law, starting a peace process with the Palestinian Authority and cancelling a law which intensifies the penalties of building violations. The Joint List has not yet said whether Blue and White accepted the conditions.

However, Blue and White said it had not promised anything in return for the Joint List’s recommendation. “The Joint List’s decision to recommend or not recommend Benny Gantz as prime minister depends on their will to guarantee a better future for Israeli citizens from all sectors. Blue and White has not promised anything in return for a recommendation to the president,” the Times of Israel reported the party saying.

Members of Joint Arab list (L-R) Mtanes Shehadeh, Yousef Jabareen, Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi

Members of Joint Arab list (L-R) Mtanes Shehadeh, Yousef Jabareen, Ayman Odeh, Mansour Abbas and Ahmad Tibi

Arab MK Mansour Abbas, one of the Joint List members, confirmed to Israeli Army Radio on Sunday that Blue and White had not promised anything in return for the recommendation.

Meanwhile, Balad, which defected, said in a statement that Gantz should not have been backed because of his “right-wing political stance, which is not too different from Likud, as well as for his bloody and aggressive military history.”

Balad’s statement also noted that Gantz would eventually form a government coalition with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu and the would be “worse than a right-wing government”. Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, hoped to chop off the heads of Palestinian prisoners and described Arab MKs who meet with Palestinian resistance parties, collaborators. Repeatedly accusing them of incitement against Israel.

On Twitter, Jamal Zahalka, a former MK and the current head of Balad, wrote on Saturday that his faction could not support the recommendation of Gantz, because he has not committed to cancelling the controversial Nation-State Law.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz outlined that Gantz’s party is made up of former Likud members, highlighting that the party’s policies would be no different to that of its main rival.

READ: Arab MKs recommend Gantz for Israel prime minister

Gantz “launched his political career eight months ago with videos boasting about the hundreds killed by the Israeli military under his command in two Gaza campaigns” which were carried out under Netanyahu’s premiership.

While party member Moshe Ya’alon, a former Likudnik was Netanyahu’s defence minister and, according to Haaretz, “is adamant that a Palestinian state will not be established in this century.”

Blue and White’s number four, Gabi Ashkenazi, was the Israeli army’s chief of staff and commanded the “devastating Operation Cast Lead – the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09.”

In not backing Gantz, Balad taken the right step. Supporting none of the election leaders because none of them is different and deserves the recommendation due to their past and future plans towards the Arab communities both in Israel and in the occupied territories.

For those MKs who did back Gantz – as Arab ministers did in 1992 when they supported Yitzhak Rabin despite his history of breaking the hands and legs of Palestinian youth in the First IntifadaHaaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer warns: “This is 2019, not 1992. And Gantz isn’t Rabin, yet.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.