Joint List chief says party won’t be a ‘lifeline’ for Bennett’s coalition

‘We are apparently heading for elections,’ Ayman Odeh says, amid speculation some Arab lawmakers could support government from outside to help pass laws

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, attends a party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 3, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, attends a party faction meeting at the Knesset on January 3, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh said on Wednesday that the opposition Arab parties “will not be a lifeline” for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as the coalition weathers its most severe crisis since its establishment last June.

“We are apparently heading for elections,” Odeh told the Haaretz daily.

The government was thrown into turmoil Wednesday morning after coalition whip Idit Silman announced her intention to join the opposition. The current Israeli government now has only 60 backers in the 120-member Knesset, leaving it without a simple majority to pass legislation.

In her resignation letter, Silman accused the government of undermining Israel’s Jewish character.

“I will not abet damage to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the people of Israel,” wrote Silman.

Odeh ruled out joining the coalition in order to preserve the fractious eight-party government that replaced former premier Benjamin Netanyahu last June. The Joint List party chief deemed it unlikely that his faction would support the coalition from outside, either.

“This is a bad government, one we cannot be a part of. And another important issue needs to be taken into account: Bennett, [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked, and others will not agree for us to support such a government,” Odeh said.

Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the 1990s, ultra-Orthodox parties withdrew from the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, causing a coalition crisis. The Arab parties supported Rabin’s coalition from the outside in the hopes that he could reach a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Arab Israeli lawmakers are far less likely to support Bennett, a right-winger who rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many right-wing coalition lawmakers would also likely reject support from the Joint List given the party’s outspoken support for the Palestinian cause.

The Joint List is composed of three factions: Odeh’s Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash party, the Palestinian nationalist Balad party and Ta’al, led by Ahmad Tibi.

Balad party chief Sami Abou Shehadah, widely seen as the most radical lawmaker in the group, also told Nazareth-based Radio al-Shams on Wednesday the party “will not provide a safety net for either Bennett or Netanyahu.”

But Abou Shehadeh said that the party will meet in the coming days to discuss “all the options available to us.”

Question marks still hover over how Ta’al’s two parliamentarians, Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi, will respond. Both have voiced a willingness to work with the coalition in the past.

Ta’al party officials could not be reached for comment.

The fragile coalition government includes the Islamist Ra’am party, which has yet to take a formal stance. Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim told The Times of Israel that early elections could be on the way.

“It’s no secret that the coalition situation is bad,” said Ghanaim. “Bennett needs to enforce discipline in his own party.”

Ghanaim said he could not speak to whether Tibi and Saadi might back the coalition from outside.

“No one knows where this might go — Israeli politics is full of surprises,” he added.

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