Gantz to meet leader of Arab-majority Joint List for coalition talks
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Gantz to meet leader of Arab-majority Joint List for coalition talks

Ayman Odeh says ‘all options are on the table’ if it means bringing an end to rule of Netanyahu and ‘extreme right’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh arrives for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh arrives for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White head Benny Gantz will meet with the leader of the Joint List alliance for coalition talks this week, his party said, opening the door for the possibility of Arab majority parties backing or joining the government, for the first time in decades.

The closed door meeting will be held Thursday at the Blue and White party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Blue and White said Monday.

Joint List leader Ayman 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 out voters to do everything to replace Netanyahu and the extreme right,” Odeh said in a statement. “Every option is on the table as long as there is an alternative of peace and equality.”

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 that includes the 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 term as prime minister.

Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz attends a faction meeting at the Knesset, on October 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking to Army Radio on Thursday, Odeh said Blue and White had not yet formally offered them to join a minority government, but cited Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah as supporting that option, and said he views such a scenario as immensely important for Arab Israelis, one that would play a critical role in “legitimizing” the community in Israeli public discourse.

He said that in talks last month, before most of the Joint List recommended Gantz as prime minister, the parties had already made headway in agreeing on some issues important to the Arab community, “and now we want the debt to be paid.”

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 chief 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.”

Most of Odeh’s alliance has previously ruled out his idea of possibly joining a Gantz coalition, and the hardline Balad faction previously rescinded its backing for Gantz as prime minister, in talks with President Reuven Rivlin after elections last month.

Netanyahu, who had the first turn to try putting 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.

President Reuven Rivlin presents Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with the mandate to form a new Israeli government, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form one, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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).

Odeh previously has acknowledged that sitting in — or supporting from outside — a coalition that includes Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, which holds the remaining eight Knesset seats, was not a realistic scenario, but said that if Liberman remains “neutral” and abstains on votes, such a minority government could function, at least temporarily.

Two rounds of elections within six months have so far failed to produce a ruling government. Neither of the two largest parties, Gantz’s Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud, have a clear path to forming a majority coalition. The two parties have also been unable to agree on a unity government.

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