Blue and White head Benny Gantz met with the leaders of the Joint List alliance for coalition talks on Thursday, opening the door to the possibility of Arab-majority parties backing or joining the government, for the first time in decades.
There was a “positive atmosphere” in the meeting between Gantz and Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and senior MK Ahmad Tibi, a joint statement from Blue and White and the Joint List said.
“Issues that matter to the Arab community were discussed with an emphasis on civilian issues,” the statement continued, adding that “Gantz made clear that treatment of such was not dependent” on the eventual makeup of the government.
The close-door meeting — which came after Gantz met earlier in the week with leaders from the Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Democratic Camp parties, as well as with Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — lasted approximately an hour, a spokesman for Odeh said in a separate statement.
“Pressing issues for the Arab community were raised during the meeting including the issues of crime and violence, building and planning and general economic and political matters,” the spokesman said.
“Tibi and Odeh affirmed the Joint List’s support for a real diplomatic process that leads to the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian statement in the framework of a two-state solution,” the spokesman added.
Ahead of the meeting, Odeh defended his decision to meet with Gantz, insisting that he was willing to do what was needed in order to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We assured our voters that we would do whatever it takes to replace Netanyahu and the extreme right,” Odeh said in a statement Wednesday. “Every option is on the table as long as there is an alternative of peace and equality.”
Most of Odeh’s alliance has previously ruled out his idea of possibly joining a Gantz coalition, and its hardline Balad faction rescinded its backing for Gantz as prime minister in talks with President Reuven Rivlin after the elections last month.
The last time an Arab-majority party backed the government was in 1992 when Hadash supported, but did not join, Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led coalition.
Last week, Odeh called on Gantz to form a minority government with the support of Arab-majority parties, saying that even if it would quickly fall, such a “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ending Netanyahu’s reign as prime minister.
Gantz has not said whether he supports the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Joint List.
Netanyahu, however, has warned against the Blue and White leader attempting to create one, contending that there should be no government that relies on “anti-Zionist Arab parties that oppose the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
On Thursday, after meeting with Gantz and Blue and White representatives, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who heads the Likud negotiating team, said he was worried that the talks were “fake negotiations for the cameras,” and that “the real negotiations are the ones taking place with Odeh and Tibi.”
Odeh took to Twitter, saying that despite efforts to discredit his party, “we will remain true to the values of peace and equality and, as always, we welcome the Likud’s hysteria.”
Netanyahu, who had the first turn to try to put together a coalition, admitted last week that, after negotiating for nearly a month, he had failed.
Immediately after receiving the mandate to form a government from Rivlin last Wednesday evening, Gantz began speaking with party leaders and inviting them to meet to negotiate their potential entry into the Blue and White-led coalition he hopes to establish, while also setting up meetings between his party’s negotiating team and other parties’ counterparts.
Netanyahu was initially tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers after September’s inconclusive elections (Likud: 32; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7 and Yamina: 7).
Gantz heads a potential bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp: 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the Joint List).