Arab party head: No support for Gantz unless he objects to parts of Trump plan

Arab party head: No support for Gantz unless he objects to parts of Trump plan

MK Ayman Odeh demands Blue and White leader rule out annexing parts of the West Bank and any transfer of Arab Israeli towns to a future Palestinian state

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of the country’s majority-Arab political alliance said Tuesday that he will not back MK Benny Gantz as prime minister after the coming elections unless the Blue and White party chief makes a clear statement rejecting two key aspects of the Trump administration’s peace plan.

MK Ayman Odeh told Army Radio he wants Gantz to publicly rule out extending Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank. In addition, he must reject a clause in the plan that would see some Arab Israeli towns and their residents become part of a future Palestinian state, Odeh said.

After elections, the president solicits recommendations from MKs as to who should be tasked with forming a government. The party leader who gains backing from the most lawmakers gets the first shot.

Without support from the Joint List, Gantz is unlikely to have enough MKs behind him to get the nod after the coming March 2 elections. Gantz is hoping to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who polls have shown continues to lead a right-wing and religious bloc of MKs that is larger than the opposition bloc Gantz can muster without the Joint List, an alliance of four majority-Arab parties.

Based on Gantz’s position over the past two weeks, Odeh said, “there is no way we will recommend or back him.”

Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz in the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan at the White House on January 28, Gantz said he would bring the proposal for approval by the Knesset if he is elected prime minister. Netanyahu also embraced the proposal, while the Palestinians rejected it entirely.

The plan allows for Israel to extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and its settlements in the West Bank — areas the Palestinians want for a future state. Another controversial proposal is redrawing Israel’s borders to see multiple Arab towns in the so-called Triangle area included in the future Palestine.

While the Joint List in the wake of the previous elections in September recommended to Rivlin that Gantz negotiate a coalition, Odeh said Tuesday that “there is no way that we will support him again or recommend him if he doesn’t come out against this [the Trump plan].”

Odeh also ruled out joining any government that includes hawkish MK Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party.

“We have nothing in common with Liberman,” he said. “We are as far as possible from him. There is no way that we will support any government that includes Liberman.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 30, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Odeh predicted his party would increase its presence in the Knesset from its current 13 seats to 15 or 16, giving it enough weight to help Gantz muster a center-left majority of 61 seats without the need for Yisrael Beytenu or any defecting MKs from Netanyahu’s bloc.

He cited a Channel 13 poll from last week that put Blue and White in the lead with 35 seats, Netanyahu’s Likud party second with 33 seats and the Joint List third with 14 seats.

The results gave Blue and White 59 seats in a center-left bloc that includes the Joint List, two short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Likud and the religious parties, which acted as a united bloc after the vote in September, would slip from 55 to 53 seats.

The poll results set up Liberman, with eight seats, to retain his role of kingmaker wedged between the Knesset blocs, with neither Gantz nor Netanyahu having a clear path to a majority without him, likely portending further political deadlock.

Last week the Haaretz newspaper reported that the idea of including Arab Israeli towns from the Triangle in the future Palestinian state was proposed to Washington by Netanyahu.

According to the report, Israeli and American officials involved in contacts over the proposal said Netanyahu framed the idea as territorial compensation to the Palestinians for the annexation of Israeli settlements under the plan.

The Triangle is an area southeast of Haifa, near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin, that includes 14 towns and villages where more than 260,000 Arab Israelis live. Residents of those areas have protested against the idea that they may one day be redefined as living in a new Palestinian state.

The upcoming elections are the third in less than a year, after the first two failed to produce a government, a first in Israeli history.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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