The head of Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), published the following op-ed on Sunday, September 22, in the New York Times. The Joint List is the third-largest bloc parliamentary bloc in Israel’s Knesset.
The Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have chosen to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade. Last summer, Mr. Netanyahu declared that Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population, were to be second-class citizens, officially. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote on Instagram after passing the Nation-State law. “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”
The Israeli government has done everything in its power to reject those of us who are Arab Palestinian citizens, but our influence has only grown. We will be the cornerstone of democracy. Arab Palestinian citizens cannot change the course of Israel alone, but change is impossible without us. I have argued earlier that if the center-left parties of Israel believe that Arab Palestinian citizens have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics.
Today, those parties no longer have a choice. At least 60 percent of the Arab Palestinian citizens have voted in the recent elections, and the Joint List, our coalition representing Arab and Arab-Jewish parties, has won 13 seats and become the third-largest list in the Knesset. We will decide who will be the next prime minister of Israel.
On behalf of the Joint List, I am recommending that Israel’s president choose Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to be the next prime minister. This 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.
Our demands for a shared, more equal future are clear: We seek resources to address violent crime plaguing Arab cities and towns, housing and planning laws that afford people in Arab municipalities the same rights as their Jewish neighbors and greater access for people in Arab municipalities to hospitals. We demand raising pensions for all in Israel so that our elders can live with dignity, and creating and funding a plan to prevent violence against women.
We seek the legal incorporation of unrecognized — mostly Palestinian Arab — villages and towns that don’t have access to electricity or water. And we insist on resuming direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace treaty that ends the occupation and establishes an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders. We call for repealing the nation-state law that declared me, my family and one-fifth of the population to be second-class citizens. It is because over the decades candidates for prime minister have refused to support an agenda for equality that no Arab or Arab-Jewish party has recommended a prime minister since 1992.
Yet this time, we are making a different choice. We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored. Our decision to recommend Mr. Gantz as the next prime minister without joining his expected national unity coalition government is a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.
The morning after the exclusionary “nation-state” law was passed, I drove my children to school and thought about raising them in a country that has repeatedly rejected Arab Palestinian children. Israeli governments have made this rejection clear time and again, from the years of military rule imposed on Arabs in Israel from the founding of the state until 1966, to the longstanding attempts to suppress Palestinian culture and the continuing decision to occupy the lands and lives of our sisters and brothers in the West Bank and Gaza.
Every time I take my youngest daughter, Sham, to her school, I see a passage written on the wall from the Book of Psalms: “The stone that the builders rejected became a cornerstone.”
By choosing to recommend Mr. Gantz, we have proven that cooperation between people, Arab and Jewish, is the only principled political strategy that will lead to a better future for us all. Countless people in Israel and around the world will be grateful to see an end to Mr. Netanyahu’s long reign of corruption, lies and fear.
We will continue our work toward a better, equal future, and our struggle for civil rights, rooted in our national identity as Palestinians. There is room enough for all of us in our shared homeland, room enough for the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and the stories of our grandparents, room enough for all of us to raise our families in equality and peace.