Ayman Odeh Sets Out Terms for Helping Gantz Defeat Netanyahu

MK Ayman Odeh, the head of Hadash – The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is open to recommending to President Reuven Rivlin following the April 9 election that the Blue and White party’s Benny Gantz be assigned the task of forming a government of which he will be prime minister. However, Odeh, who is the leader of the Hadash-Ta’al list, said he would not be willing to support Gantz, the former head of Israel’s military, for the top job without clear commitments from the latter and his co-leader, Yair Lapid, to advance some of Hadash-Ta’al’s positions, among them: the abrogation of the racist “Nation-State Law.”

Hadash leader, MK Ayman Odeh and Ta’al Chairman MK Ahmad Tibi

Hadash leader, MK Ayman Odeh and Ta’al Chairman MK Ahmad Tibi (Photo Zu Haderech)

Hadash-Ta’al backing for Blue and White would give the latter party a much-needed shot in the arm in its bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office after a decade in power. “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,” Odeh told The Times of Israel. “We would be willing to recommend Gantz and Lapid to Rivlin to stop the formation of a right-wing government, but they need to show us they are willing to negotiate peace with the Palestinian leadership, support equality for all citizens including Arabs, increase budgets to the local authorities in Arab villages and cancel the ‘Nation-State Law.'”

After the last elections in 2015, the Joint List — the alliance of Hadash and the Arab parties led by Odeh in the outgoing Knesset — did not recommend Isaac Herzog, who was then Netanyahu’s main challenger, nor anyone else to form a government. (Following every general election, the president invites the head of each party or bloc to consultations and  asks the latter to whom he should assign the task of attempting to form a coalition government.) Odeh said neither Gantz nor Lapid has contacted him, Ta’al Chairman MK Ahmad Tibi, or anyone else on his slate.

Odeh also noted that if Gantz and Lapid consent to his party’s demands and ultimately decide to form a minority government, Hadash-Ta’al, as members of the opposition, would not vote for resolutions to dissolve it. “If they are working for peace and equality, why would we want to bring their government down?” he asked. Odeh described Hadash-Ta’al’s demands from Blue and White as reasonable, arguing that the Gantz-led party realistically could accept them but noting that he thought it was still not prepared to do so

“We are not asking them to recognize the Nakba or support the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees,” he said. “That being said, I still do not think Lapid and Gantz have matured to the point where they can accept our positions.”

Gantz and Lapid have not indicated they would be willing to meet all of the demands Odeh outlined. For instance, both of them have made commitments to “repair the Nation-State Law,” but have avoided using language related to abrogating it. Gantz also suggested last week that he would not engage the Arab-majority parties in his efforts to form a government. “We are calling for a unity government,” Gantz said during a tour of a northern Israel, specifying he would like it to include members of the Likud party and anyone “who is sane and Zionist.”

Odeh said he had pushed in vain for the Joint List to remain intact. “I deeply wanted to maintain the Joint List because I believed it was best for all of us to remain united,” he said. “Unfortunately after many discussions about preserving it, we were unable to do so.” The Joint List won 13 seats in the 2015 elections, making it the third largest bloc in the Knesset.

Odeh also described Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric, which has repeatedly spotlighted Arab-majority parties, as a strategic effort to delegitimize them. “Netanyahu knows best the political weight of Arab citizens. He was the head of the opposition when Rabin in the 1990s relied on us to keep his government afloat. He also lost to Barak by a narrow margin in 1999, whom many of us supported,” he said, referring to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who defeated Netanyahu in head-to-head Prime Minister elections in 1999 by eight percentage points. “He knows that we can make the difference. So he concluded his last election campaign inciting against us,” he said, recalling that Netanyahu infamously warned Jewish voters on Election Day in 2015 that Arabs were flocking to polling booths “in droves.” “And now he has decided to begin this election campaign by inciting against us and attempting to delegitimize us,” Odeh charged.