(August 25, 2019 / JNS) Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, signaled a potential major political shift when he announced last week that his party would consider joining a center-left government led by Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party.
Since the creation of the state, no Arab party has ever recommended a Jewish candidate for prime minister or sat in a ruling coalition. Yet, with neither Israel’s right- or left-wing blocs able to secure a coalition following the previous election, Arab party mandates would represent a significant boost to the left should they break their longstanding tradition of remaining outside the government.
Yet such an alliance remains unlikely. Blue and White No. 3 and former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon told JNS, “As long as the Arab parties do not accept Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Blue and White cannot sit with them in a government.”
Odeh, for his part, told JNS that he has four conditions for entering a Blue and White-led government.
“The first,” said Odeh, “is the construction of a new Arab city and redoing the rules to allow for more Arab construction and stopping demolitions in Arab areas.”
The second condition, he said, was “governmental focus on fighting crime in Arab areas, including an operation to gather all the illegal weapons in the Arab population. Third is in the welfare realm, including building a public hospital in an Arab city and raising stipends for the elderly.”
The last condition, he concluded, was “direct negotiations with the Palestinian leaders to bring an end to the occupation and to establish a Palestinian state, alongside canceling the nation state law.”
“I want to lead Arab politics from a politics of protest to a politics of influence,” said Odeh. “We are 20% of Israel’s population and we are needed to bring equality, democracy and social justice to Israel.”
The most problematic of these conditions for Blue and White would likely be the last. The nation state legislation, which passed in the Knesset in 2018, sets in law that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people.” Blue and White has talked about “correcting” the law to make sure it emphasizes equality for all of Israel’s citizens, but they do not favor cancelling it completely.
Gantz, who is also a former IDF chief of staff, emphasized that his party’s sights are not on negotiations with the Arab parties, saying, “We are calling for a unity government” and clarifying that such a coalition would include “anyone who is sane and Zionist.”
Even if Blue and White found a way to accept the Joint List’s conditions, polls currently indicate the left would still need the help of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party to secure a 61-mandate majority needed to form a government.
Yet MK Oded Forer of Yisrael Beiteinu told JNS that “there is zero chance we would join a government which includes the Arab parties.”
Forer’s statement makes it extremely unlikely that the Joint Arab List would ever be invited into a Blue and White-led coalition.
Ironically, the greatest impact of Odeh’s dramatic announcement could actually be a boost to the Likud Party.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told JNS that a potential alliance between Blue and White and the Arab parties may ultimately bring more votes to the Likud Party, boosting Netanyahu’s chances of winning the election.
“Now it’s official and the truth has come to light,” said Levin. “Ayman Odeh’s declaration proves what we have been saying all along: Gantz and [Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid] are planning to form a government with the Arab parties.”
Levin issued a warning to all voters: “A vote for Blue and White or a vote for Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party is a vote for Ayman Odeh as education minister and Ahmed Tibi for public security minister.”
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