Labor lawmaker: Top Arab MK said he could dissolve Arab party, join us
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Labor lawmaker: Top Arab MK said he could dissolve Arab party, join us

Ayman Odeh dismisses ‘absurd’ claim by Omer Barlev, says Joint (Arab) List won’t be dismantled

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Labor party lawmaker on Saturday claimed the leader of the Knesset’s only predominantly Arab party was willing to dismantle his alliance with Arab lawmakers to bolster a center-left bloc led by Labor party leader Avi Gabbay.

Speaking to Labor party activists in the northern city of Nazareth, MK Omer Barlev said Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh suggested repeatedly he could dissolve his party list, if deemed necessary to propel Gabbay to power.

Odeh “spoke to me more than once, and he said that in the moment of truth, I will stand by your side, even if I need to break up my party,” said Barlev.

Barlev assessed that the Zionist Union, which makes up the alliance between the Labor and Hatnuah parties, needed support from both Arab Israelis and immigrants from the former Soviet Union to land Gabbay the premiership in the next election, which is currently scheduled for November 2019.

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh leads a faction meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 31, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Joint Arab List is an alliance of four Arab parties, 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 amalgam, the Joint List sits in the opposition. It is made up of Odeh’s secular communist Hadash, the Islamist Balad, and the United Arab List and Ta’al parties. Though ideologically split, the four Arab parties joined forces in the 2015 elections in response to the raising of the electoral threshold, becoming the second-largest opposition party in Israel’s parliament.

The Labor lawmaker’s remarks were caught on film by local Arabic-language media, and were swiftly denied by the Arab party’s leader as “absurd.”

“I don’t know what MK Barlev based this on and how he reached this absurd conclusion,” said Odeh. “From the day we founded the Joint List, we’ve heard assessments and reports about the dismantlement of the party, and meanwhile we’ve proven precisely the opposite.”

Though individual Arab Knesset members have in the past served in governing coalitions, the existing Arab Knesset parties have vociferously rejected the prospect of joining the government of the State of Israel, citing their allegiance to their Palestinian brethren. That animosity was shared by nearly all of Israel’s remaining political parties, which have similarly rejected the suggestion of incorporating the Arab parties in the government.

Gabbay was no exception: The Zionist Union party leader in October ruled out sitting in a government with the Joint List.

“We will not sit with them, unequivocally,” Gabbay said last year, 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.”

Gabbay has cast himself as bent on replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the next election. But recent opinion polls have his party lagging behind both the Likud and the opposition Yesh Atid party, led by MK Yair Lapid.

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