Two months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his racist Election Day remarks that Arab voters were “voting in droves,” he met with Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh on Thursday, May 21, to discuss plans for increasing government spending in the Arab-Palestinian community in Israel.
Odeh, who heads the 13-seat Joint List that groups Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality – Communist Party of Israel) and the Arab parties in the Knesset said the meeting was “not simple.”
“I came here today with great responsibility as a representative of the largest minority in the country; a minority that, as part of a despicable election tactic, was incited against by the prime minister and whose very citizenship was questioned,” he said. “I relayed this message to the PM too, and I reiterate that it’s unacceptable that a prime minister speaks against citizens voting,” Odeh added.
“From my perspective, today’s meeting was a working meeting – in a period in which the Arab public in the country is in increasingly dire straits, when the most burning issue is the housing crunch which can no longer be contained, and the threat of demolishing tens of thousands of households and throwing tens of thousands of citizens into the street without a roof,” said the released statement he released.
Odeh said the most recent and harshest example is the government’s desire to demolish Arab-Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran in order to build a Jewish community. Odeh remarked that he presented Netanyahu with a detailed plan for comprehensive reform in Arab communities, and made a clear demand to immediately stop house demolitions. He called for a dialogue with citizens to find a real and legal solution to the housing crisis and to recognize unrecognized villages. Odeh also raised complaints by Arab citizens that state discrimination makes it impossible for them to obtain planning authorities’ approval to expand their towns. As a result, many families resort to building homes without permission, leaving them liable to demolition. Although Palestinian Arabs in Israel make up some 17% of the population, only 4.6% of new homes are built in Arab areas, according to the NGO Adalah.
In a February report, Adalah blamed the housing crisis on a “deliberate, consistent, and systematic government policy” which gives preference to development in Jewish areas over Arab ones. In 2014, the Israel Land Authority published tenders for construction of 38,261 housing units in Jewish communities compared with only 1,844 in Arab communities, the report said.
“In addition, I discussed with the prime minister the need to find quality and appropriate employment for young Arab men and women, whose difficulty in being absorbed into the job market hurts all citizens and, in the end, Israel’s capacity for economic growth,” stated Odeh. “We also discussed the need for an equal distribution of ministerial budgets, a fair budgeting of local Arab authorities, and providing Arab society with accessibility to higher education.”
Odeh said that, to his regret, it seems that every attempt to discuss ending the occupation and pursuing a just peace with the current government is a farce. However, he felt it was his obligation to repeat to Netanyahu that the Palestinian people deserve freedom and a place in the sun. He added that “a just peace is in the interest of all Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.” Speaking to Army Radio after the meeting, Odeh also said he was “skeptical, to say the least, simply because I can’t be certain about something until I see actual results.” In the statement released after the meeting Odeh remarked, “Unfortunately, it seems that with the current government, any attempt to seriously discuss ending the occupation and striving towards peace and justice can be no more than comic relief.”
Prior to the meeting, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Netanyahu to cancel talks with Odeh, accusing him of granting legitimacy to “supporters of terror.” According to Lieberman “This man represents a list of terror supporters in the Israeli parliament.” Lieberman, who heads the extreme-right anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party now in the opposition, stepped down as Israel’s top diplomat earlier this month.