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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

This Palestinian could help oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office

Ayman Odeh could swing the balance of power in favour of the Israeli leader's main challenger

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List bloc in Israel's parliament, gestures during a press conference in Jerusalem. AFP
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List bloc in Israel's parliament, gestures during a press conference in Jerusalem. AFP

The leader of Israel’s largest Arab party has said that he is willing to side with the main challenger to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to remove him from office.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List coalition of Arab and left-wing parties, is open to siding with the centre-left Blue and White Party led by former Israeli military general Benny Gantz and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the early election scheduled for April 9.

He said that he would only support the centrist party and give it the boost of the Arab vote if it provided concessions to Israel’s sizeable Arab minority. If those demands were met, he and his party would wield the power to bring down Israel’s political stalwart, who remains embroiled in corruption allegations and is set to be indicted by the country’s attorney general.

“We hope to influence decision-making and we do not want to permit the creation of another extremist government led by Netanyahu that constantly incites against us,” he told Israeli reporters.

Mr Netanyahu has received much criticism for his rhetoric towards the Arab minority in the build-up to elections in the country in a bid to win right-wing and far-right votes in order to solidify his hold on power. He is trying to win his fifth term in office.

In 2015, he warned Jewish voters that Arabs were heading to the polls in their “droves”, a move viewed as a scare tactic to boost his position at the polls. He went on to form a coalition and win that election.

This year, he has embarked on a similar path. One of his top ministers, Miri Regev, last week said in an interview that Mr Gantz would have to turn to the Arab vote in order to defeat the incumbent prime minister. That sparked the ire of one Israeli television presented who wrote on Instagram that “the Arabs are human beings”.

In a surprising move, Mr Netanyahu addressed her statement in an Instagram response. “Dear Rotem Sela, I read what you wrote. First of all, an important correction: Israel is not a state for all its citizens. According to a basic law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and the Jewish people only,” he wrote.

He was referring to the divisive law passed in July 2018 that states Israel to be the “national home of the Jewish people,” but leaving out minorities such as Arabs and the Druze who make up at least one-fifth of the country’s population of 8 million people.

Continuing, he claimed that Arab citizens have “equal rights”. He said the decision was between a right-wing government and a “left-wing government...with the support of the Arab parties” that will “undermine the security of the state and the citizens”.

Mr Odeh laid out a series of priorities and demands that would need to be met by Mr Gantz and Mr Lapid if he were to back them.

“We would be willing to recommend Gantz and Lapid to [Israeli President Reuven] Rivlin to stop the formation of a right-wing government, but they need to show us they are willing to negotiate peace with the [Ramallah-based] Palestinian leadership, support equality for all citizens including Arabs, increase budgets to the local authorities in Arab villages and cancel the nation-state law,” he said.

He added that neither Mr Gantz nor Mr Lapid had reached out to him.

At the last election in 2015, the Arab coalition refused to back Isaac Herzog, Mr Netanyahu’s challenger in that vote.

Updated: March 11, 2019 07:19 PM

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