Report: PM’s associates promise benefits for Arabs if Joint List opposes Gantz

Channel 13 says Netanyahu confidants have offered Arab lawmakers carrots if they don’t back Gantz for PM, block attempt to legislate against the premier

Joint List chair MK Ayman Odeh speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Joint List chair MK Ayman Odeh speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have contacted officials in the Joint List alliance of Arab parties and offered to negotiate actions beneficial to the Arab public in exchange for the faction refusing to support Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s candidacy for prime minister and opposing a legislative effort to bar the prime minister from office, Channel 13 reported Saturday, citing Joint List sources.

The sources claimed the among the Joint List officials contacted were members of the hardline Balad party — particularly reviled in public by Netanyahu and his Likud party.

They said the premier’s associates had offered to enter into negotiations on issues important to Arab lawmakers in exchange for the Joint List not recommending Gantz as premier to President Reuven Rivlin and not backing a bill floated by Blue and White to bar a person under indictment from serving as prime minister.

Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases is set to open on March 17.

One issue allegedly raised by the premier’s confidants was the elimination of a 2017 law that set severe punishments for illegal construction. Arab lawmakers have said the law was designed to hurt their public while ignoring the difficulties Arabs face in obtaining authorization for construction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the heads of the right-wing parties, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There was no immediate reaction from Likud to the Channel 13 report.

Throughout the recent repeated election cycles and particularly ahead of this week’s election Likud and Netanyahu were accused of demonizing the Arab public to drive right-wing voters to the polls.

The prime minister’s main slogan ahead of Monday’s vote was “It’s either Bibi or Tibi” — a reference to key Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi. Netanyahu has said any attempt by Gantz to form a government would be illegitimate as it would necessitate support from the Joint List, which the prime minister has characterized as a party of “terror supporters.”

Blue and White’s leadership insisted ahead of the election that it would not form a government with Joint List support, as the party is not Zionist. But such support is seen as key to Gantz being tasked with forming a government.

The premier and his partners received 58 seats together in Israel’s latest elections on Monday, three short of a majority.

Though the other 62 lawmakers in the Knesset are deeply divided on key issues, they all oppose Netanyahu and could unite to unseat him. Fifteen of those seats belong to the Joint List.

Joint list party member Ahmad Tibi arrives for a meeting at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 news reported Saturday night that the current plan was for Blue and White to form a minority government alongside Labor-Gesher-Meretz (totaling 40 of 120 Knesset seats), with outside support from Yisrael Beytenu (7) and the Joint List.

During a Saturday press conference Netanyahu said the Joint List “rules out Israel as a Jewish state… and they back a full ‘right of return'” for millions of Palestinians to Israel. “It’s not [that I’m] anti-Arab,” Netanyahu said. Rather, the Joint List “have a platform that opposes the existence of Israel.”

Addressing former aides Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who are now Blue and White MKs, he asked, “Will you throw all your principles into the garbage?”

On Wednesday Netanyahu divided the parties in the Knesset into right-wing and left-wing blocs, while saying the Joint List “is not part of the equation,” leading to criticism that he was ignoring and delegitimizing the votes of some 600,000 Israelis.

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