Odeh: We could back Gantz if he stops supporting ‘Jewish majority,’ annexation
Tibi: We can support Blue and White coalition but won't join

Odeh: We could back Gantz if he stops supporting ‘Jewish majority,’ annexation

Head of Joint List, on track to have 15 Knesset seats, reiterates refusal to allow Liberman to become minister, says Blue and White must change path to get Arabs’ backing

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)
Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

The chairman of the Joint List party said Thursday that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz would have to walk back comments in support of forming a “Jewish majority” coalition and annexing parts of the West Bank in order for his majority-Arab alliance to recommend that the centrist party leader be tapped with forming the government.

“Right now, with Gantz’s attitude [in favor] of a Jewish majority and unilateral annexation, we have no one to recommend to the president,” Ayman Odeh told the Kan public broadcaster. “If there is a change after the elections in the direction of peace and equality, we will weigh our position again.”

Throughout the election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Blue and White would have no way of forming a government without some degree of support from the Joint List — a party the premier claimed on Wednesday did not even count in the electoral calculus. In an effort to appeal to right-wing voters, Gantz responded by distancing himself from the Joint List, saying he would not rely on the party in any way and that he would form a coalition made up of a “Jewish majority” in the Knesset. He never specified which parties he would rely on to form such a government.

After coming under fire for the “Jewish majority” term, Gantz apologized for using it, saying that he recognized the offense it caused to non-Jews in one TV interview days before the election. He instead suggested using the term “Zionist majority.” Evidently, the clarification was not enough to satisfy Odeh, who demanded a more forceful repudiation of Blue and White’s pre-election stance.

Ayman Odeh (C), leader of the Hadash party that is part of the Joint List alliance, gives an address with other leaders at headquarters in Shefa Amr on March 2, 2020, after polls closed (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Odeh also highlighted his party’s opposition to Gantz’s support for West Bank annexation. Weeks before the election, Blue and White leaders paid a visit to the Jordan Valley where they declared their support for declaring Israeli sovereignty over the area, which makes up roughly 20% of the West Bank. Gantz conditioned the backing on coordination from the international community, which appeared to render the issue moot given that just about no country save for the US has indicated that it would support such a move.

However, the idea of annexation subsequently received a further boost from Washington when US President Donald Trump released his peace plan in January which envisions the Jordan Valley as well as all settlements in the West Bank coming under Israeli sovereignty. Gantz flew to Washington to meet with Trump on the eve of the plan’s unveiling and declared his support for the proposal.

But in a further clouding of his position on the matter of annexation, Gantz later said he supported maintaining a close relationship with allies Jordan and Egypt, for whom annexation has long been a nonstarter.

“In the meantime, we are waiting for Gantz to see if Gantz… has a different approach now that the election is behind us,” Odeh told Kan on Thursday.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (C) speaks to reporters during a visit to the Jordan Valley on January 21, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

But despite his potential willingness to back the Blue and White leader, Odeh all but disqualified another party that will be essential if Gantz wants to form a government with the Joint List’s assistance.

“We will not allow [Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor] Liberman to become a minister,” he said, reiterating a position he took throughout the campaign in response to Liberman’s attacks on the Joint List, which he has called a “fifth column.”

“We will not surrender our role as a legitimate group in [Israeli] politics,” Odeh said.

Ahmed Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al) party that is part of the Joint List alliance, at electoral headquarters in Shefa-Amr on March 2, 2020, (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Separately on Thursday, Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi took Odeh’s comments on Liberman further, saying his party would not support any government that even includes Yisrael Beytenu, which has advocated the “transfer” of Arab Israelis living the so-called triangle near the Green Line to a future Palestinian state.

Tibi reiterated that the furthest his party would be willing to go would be to support a Blue and White-led coalition from the opposition, but that it would not join any government.

He also took issue with the “Jewish majority” aspirations, which have also gained support from Likud lawmakers, including Communications Minister David Amsalem.

“Imagine if in France and Germany they would talk about the Jews [in this manner] and try to disqualify them in such a way,” Tibi told Army Radio.

read more: