Given cold shoulder, Arab party chief attacks ‘racist’ Blue and White
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Given cold shoulder, Arab party chief attacks ‘racist’ Blue and White

Ayman Odeh accuses Benny Gantz of lacking courage after center-left party all but rejects possibility of Arab-led faction joining coalition

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, outside a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions asking to disqualify his party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, outside a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions asking to disqualify his party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List head Ayman Odeh on Saturday blasted Blue and White leader Benny Gantz as uncourageous and anti-equality for seemingly rejecting an unprecedented proposal for the Arab-led faction to join a center-left government.

Odeh told daily Yedioth Ahronoth last week that he would be willing to consider joining a governing coalition led by Gantz’s party if it met a number of demands, marking a landmark break from decades in which Arab-led parties remained staunchly in the opposition.

Members of Blue and White have mostly dismissed Odeh’s suggestion, noting the inclusion of the anti-Zionist Balad party in the Joint List, and the centrist party has seemingly attempted to distance itself from being seen as allied with the Arab party.

“The ball is in Gantz’s court, but he has not returned it — he is the intransigent one,” Odeh said in a Channel 12 news interview Saturday.

“I don’t know why he rejects [my offer],” Odeh said. “If he is really for peace, equality, democracy, social justice — he should accept it. But apparently he is against [those]. Apparently he refers to me as ‘an Arab’ — and that is racism.”

In the Yedioth interview, Odeh laid out several conditions for joining a center-left coalition, including a renewal of peace negotiations with the Palestinians and rolling back the controversial Jewish nation-state law passed last year.

Arab Joint List lawmakers Aida Touma-Suleiman, left, Ahmad Tibi, center, and Ofer Ksif at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem over right-wing petitions to disqualify their party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a subsequent tweet, Odeh added another major demand that wasn’t mentioned in the report: “Ending the occupation,” referring to Israel’s military rule over the West Bank.

That condition would make his party joining the government extremely unlikely, with Blue and White supporting continued Israeli control over East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Gantz told Channel 12 Saturday said his party was determined to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but would not agree to any peace deal that would require dividing Jerusalem or a withdrawal from the so-called settlement blocs or the strategic Jordan Valley.

From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The Blue and White chairman said that as prime minister he would work to address issues of internal security, unemployment and education in Arab communities, meeting some of Odeh’s demands, but would only be willing to serve together with those “who recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

“It seems to me that there are parts within the Arab parties that clash with [this condition],” he said, apparently referring to the ultra-nationalist Balad party, one of four factions that make up the Joint List’s electoral slate.

Odeh attacked Blue and White Saturday for ambiguity regarding peace efforts with the Palestinians.

“I’ve never heard him speak of two states,” Odeh said.” He has no platform. He should say what it is so we can move forward.”

He called on Gantz to “be courageous” and publicly state his determination to reach a peace deal that would end Israel’s military control over the Palestinians.

Israeli parliament members Ayman Odeh (3rd from left), Ahmad Tibi (2nd from left) and members of the Hadash – Ta’al joint list hold a press conference after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem April 15, 2019, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If Gantz has the courage to be like [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin in the 1990s, I will have the courage and all the respect in the world, to be like Tawfik Ziad,” Odeh said, referring to the former Hadash chairman who voted to support the establishment of Rabin’s government in 1992, allowing the Labor Party head to enter the Oslo peace negotiations several months later.

“We are not just 20 percent of the population,” Odeh said of the Arab demographic his party represents. “We are 40% of the 50% that will make the change in the country. It won’t be 100% of the population that makes a change, just 51%. If he wants to make peace, he cannot do it without us.”

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