Israeli and international media have been making a lead story out of the Joint Arab List’s recommendation of Benny Gantz for prime minister, calling the recommendation “historic.” In regard to Israel’s current election deadlock, the announcement isn’t historic, influential or practical. And while the recommendation is important on some levels, it is so for reasons other than coalition-building.
For weeks leading up to Israel’s elections and in the days since, media have been counting Arab parties within the left-wing bloc led by the Blue and White Party’s Gantz. The purpose of this addition was to give Israelis the perception that Gantz’s bloc could establish a majority coalition government.
Since recommending Yitzhak Rabin the early 1990s to help promote the now-failed Oslo Accords, which were meant to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state on lands which Israel liberated from Jordan and Egypt in 1967, Arab parties have not recommended any candidate to Israel’s president to become prime minister following an election.
The Arab parties made it perfectly clear why they were recommending Gantz: because they want to push out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For 10 years, Netanyahu has been a beacon of strength and has emerged at the very front of the global fight against radical Islam. Under his watch, the Jewish state has transformed into a regional military and economic superpower, as neighboring Gulf nations have seen oil revenues plummet and other Mideast States have descended into complete chaos.
Until proven otherwise, Gantz has yet to earn the respect of Israel’s allies, let alone its enemies. Furthermore, in both the April and September election campaigns, Netanyahu has singled out the Arab parties for anti-Zionist values.
With Netanyahu now fighting for his political career, the Arab parties now are hoping they can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and help usher out the prime minister’s decade-long tenure. Gantz, who is grasping at straws trying to form a coalition, has little choice but to take any recommendations for prime minister he can get, and so he has taken a much more conciliatory tone towards the Arab parties.
In recommending Gantz, Joint Arab List leader told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that “for us, the most important thing is to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from power.”
The only problem with their hope is that their recommendation is completely meaningless. First, only three out of four factions, representing 10 of 13 Knesset mandates, agreed to recommend Gantz. The Balad Party withheld its recommendation, rejecting “General Benny Gantz” and his “Zionist ideology, his right-wing positions that are not much different from the Likud, and his bloody and aggressive military history.”
Following the Arab party’s initial consultation with Rivlin, Knesset member Ahmed Tibi was forced to clarify the recommendation in a letter, writing, “I would like to announce that the three Balad Knesset members have asked me as the faction chairman to declare that the Joint List’s recommendation of Knesset member Benny Gantz does not include them, and therefore the recommendation is in the name of ten MKs and not 13.”
Balad chairman Mtanes Shihadeh told the Kan public broadcaster Monday that, “We are four partner parties, not a single party. Nobody can force the other how to behave or what to say, especially on matters of ideology and principle. This is something that we fundamentally cannot live with. Of course, if Gantz brings forward a government and the Joint List decides to support it, Balad won’t support.”
By rejecting Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, on grounds of his Zionism and his defense credentials, Balad tipped its own hand as an anti-Zionist party in the Knesset that does not support the security and welfare of the Jewish people.
Without the three Balad votes, Gantz remains short of the required 61 recommendations necessary to give him the first chance of forming a coalition. But, more importantly, even the 10 Arab Knesset members who went ahead and recommended Gantz over Netanyahu for prime minister still have no intention of joining a coalition led by either candidate.
In an op-ed published on Sunday in The New York Times (“Israel’s Arab Parties Back Benny Gantz to End Netanyahu’s Grip”), Joint List head Ayman Odeh wrote that the party’s recommendation of Gantz:
“ … will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career.
“My colleagues and I have made this decision not as an endorsement of Mr. Gantz and his policy proposals for the country. We are aware that Mr. Gantz has refused to commit to our legitimate political demands for a shared future, and because of that we will not join his government.
We will continue our work toward a better, equal future, and our struggle for civil rights, rooted in our national identity as Palestinians.”
Odeh confirmed that the national identities of the parties he represents are not Israeli, even though they serve in Israel’s parliament. In other words, they openly acknowledge that they do not share the vision of Israelis on the right or left of the political spectrum for a Jewish state.
Following the Arab parties’ recommendation of Gantz, Avigdor Lieberman, whose defection from the pro-Netanyahu, right-wing camp necessitated the need for a second election, refused to recommend Gantz or Netanyahu for prime minister, further weakening Gantz’s chances of forming a government.
“The Joint List are our enemies,” said Lieberman. “Wherever they are, we will be on the other side,” emphasizing that he would not sit together with the Arab parties even in “a parallel universe.”
Without Lieberman’s recommendation, and discounting the meaningless recommendations of the Arab parties, Gantz has only 44 legitimate recommendations—barely two-thirds of the way toward a majority.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s Likud Party, with 55 recommendations, still commands the balance of power
In a statement, Likud wrote that it would “make every effort to establish a stable and strong government committed to maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We can’t have a government that relies on Arab parties that oppose the State of Israel.”
Those who call the Arab’s support for Gantz “historic,” similar to the Arab parties themselves, simply do not want to see Netanyahu extend his term for another four years.
Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.