Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that an Arab village had taken down a sign naming a street after late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, saying that there is no place for streets in Israel named after “enemies.”
However, Netanyahu, speaking in a video posted on his Facebook page, insisted that Israeli Arabs have an important role to play in the country.
Israeli soldiers recently discovered via the Waze application that the small northern Israeli-Arab village of Jatt had recently inaugurated Yasser Arafat Street in honor of the late leader, seen as a hero among Palestinians and many Arab Israelis.
The prime minister said that, at a cabinet meeting, he asked Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) to have the sign removed.
Netanyahu said in a Facebook video that the matter had been dealt with, and the Jatt council agreed to remove “all the controversial street signs,” including the Arafat sign, and replace them with different names.
“There cannot be streets in Israel named after enemies of Israel,” Netanyahu said in the video. “The local council told me that it has removed the sign.”
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However, he struck a conciliatory tone towards Israeli Arabs, saying that he “wants Israeli Arabs to be a part of the success story of Israel. And faithful citizens of the State of Israel. All doors are open to them.”
Deri had told Netanyahu that the Interior Ministry did not approve the decision to name the street after Arafat, as is required for all street names.
Jatt, located in northern Israel, has a population of some 11,000.
Speaking at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “no street in the State of Israel will be named after murderers of Israelis and Jews.
“We cannot allow streets in the State of Israel to be named after Yasser Arafat. “We will make the arrangements, including new legislation if need be, so that this does not happen here.”
Jatt mayor Mohammed Taher Wattab defended naming the street for Arafat in comments to Israeli army radio.
“Yasser Arafat signed a peace deal with Israel and it is a shame that the prime minister finds the need to waste his time on the name of a street in a small town like ours,” he said.
“From our perspective [Arafat] is the official leader of the Palestinian people, with Israel recognizing him as a partner for [peace] negotiations,” he said, while adding “therefore there is no legal, social or moral prohibition in naming a street after him.”
Wattad also said that “whoever calls [Arafat] a mass murder should take responsibility for his words.”
Arafat, who died in 2004, remains a venerated figure among Palestinians, but is seen by many in Irael as an unreformed terrorist who doomed the 2000 Camp David peace talks, orchestrated the suicide bombing onslaught of the Second Intifada that followed, and disseminated a still-prevailing narrative among Palestinians that denies Jews’ history and legitimacy in the Holy Land.