Labor chairman Avi Gabbay declared Saturday that his party would not sit in a government with the Joint (Arab) List.
“We will not sit with them, unequivocally,” Gabbay said, speaking at a cultural event in Beersheba. “I do not see anything that connects us to them or allows us to be in the same government with them.”
Nonetheless, the new Labor head went on to insist that his party would be the political address for all Israelis. “I don’t believe in this perception that says ‘this one needs to be disqualified and that one needs to be disqualified.'”
The Joint Arab List, the Knesset’s only predominantly Arab party, is an alliance of four Arab factions, and holds 13 seats in the current 120-member Knesset. Like Gabbay’s 19-seat Labor party, which is part of the 24-seat Zionist Union alliance, the Joint List sits in the opposition.
As for other parties raised by the interviewer — including the ultra-Orthodox parties, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and center-right Kulanu — Gabbay said he would have no problem with them joining a coalition under his governance.
Gabbay, a former Kulana environmental protection minister, said that his party would need 27 seats to form a government, in an assumed partnership with roughly 11 from Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.
Referring to the left wing bloc opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gabbay said, “We are the range of 57 seats (out of 120), and we will continue to grow.”
Responding to the Labor leader’s disqualification of his faction from his would-be coalition, Joint List MK Youssef Jabareen said later Saturday that Gabbay was “pouring fuel on the flames of hatred directed toward the Joint list along with the hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens who voted for it.”
Later in the Saturday event, Gabbay was given an opportunity to respond to critics who have faulted his fluency in English. Asked how he planned on bringing in voters who traditionally support Likud, Gabbay responded in English as follows:
“At the end, these people that vote for Netanyahu — part of them… are looking for an alternative… And if we are going to build the right alternative that actually hug[s] many Israelis, around uniting this society again, and doing exactly the opposite of the way of Netanyahu…. Netanyahu is [diving] the society. We are going to do the opposite. And that’s what they want. They want somebody that will re-unite the people of Israel, and this is exactly the way, the path that we are going on to…”
Gabbay also spoke highly of US President Donald Trump, who announced that he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal in a speech on Friday
The Labor leader said that he hoped Trump would follow through on his vow to crack down on Iran.
“We have to continue to press for greater sanctions, specifically relating to (Iran’s support for) terror,” Gabbay said. “I hope that Trump will also carry out the second stage and not just be satisfied with speeches.”
Gabbay, who said Iran was a threat to Israel, but not “an existential threat,” also criticized the Israeli government for not being involved in the formulation of the Iran deal, which Netanyahu bitterly opposed. Gabbay said Israel needed to be involved in the “diplomacy and closed-door discussions.”
“Last time we fled from that. We made all the speeches but we were not in the room, so we did not influence the deal,” he said.