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Sa’ar rules out narrow center-left coalition relying on Arab party Hadash-Ta’al

Justice minister says that even after splitting from the more hardline Balad, party heads Odeh and Tibi have ‘extremist’ views; says only option is Gantz-led broad unity government

Justice Minister Gideon Saar at the launch of the National Unity party campaign for the upcoming elections in Tel Aviv, September 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Saar at the launch of the National Unity party campaign for the upcoming elections in Tel Aviv, September 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar vowed Sunday that his center-right National Unity party will not form a coalition with a narrow majority that relies on Hadash-Ta’al, even after those two Arab-majority parties parted ways with the more extreme Balad party.

Sa’ar, who is No. 2 in National Unity behind the party leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, made the comments in an interview with the Kol A-Nas Arabic-language website about the coming November 1 elections.

He accused Hadash leader Ayman Odeh and Ta’al chief Ahmad Tibi of harboring extremist views that prevent them from being partners he can trust to be part of a governing coalition.

“We are very familiar with the positions of Odeh and Tibi. They are extremists, sometimes also anti-Israeli,” Sa’ar said.

“We won’t join a government that relies on extremist elements, because a government that relies on extremist elements won’t survive,” he said.

Sa’ar noted that he was only presenting the position of National Unity, and not that of Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party.

“We won’t agree to a government that rests” on Hadash-Ta’al, “period,” he said. “The only solution now is a broad national unity government, and the only one who can form such a government is Benny Gantz.”

Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh of the Arab Joint List during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Unity is an alliance between Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope party and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White.

In a move that was seen as having a significant impact on the outcome of the election, the Hadash and Ta’al parties last week split from the hardline Palestinian nationalist Balad, which said it will run alone.

Polls predict that Balad is far below the 3.25-percent threshold for entry into the Knesset, potentially wasting many thousands of votes and handing a parliamentary majority to the right-wing religious bloc of parties loyal to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the Hadash-Ta’al alliance is expected to win four seats, which — if Netanyahu’s bloc doesn’t get a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset — could put it in a kingmaker position in the parliament, where an ongoing political deadlock and four previous national elections since 2019 have frequently featured no party or bloc having a clear path to a majority.

Hadash-Ta’al and Balad both oppose a return to power of former prime minister Netanyahu, whose bloc is polling at around 59-60 seats, on the cusp of a majority.

Yesh Atid is leading the bloc of parties opposing Netanyahu, with National Unity polling at lower numbers but saying it is the only party that can bridge the gaps between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs.

If Balad fails to pass the threshold, as expected, Hadash-Ta’al could be left holding the key seats needed by Lapid’s bloc to reach a majority. However, without National Unity, Lapid would still come up short.

Lapid — and Sa’ar — partnered with Ra’am, an Islamist party, to form the previous government, a diverse mix of eight parties from the left, center and right. The government ultimately collapsed after a year, following rebellions by individual lawmakers from various right-wing and left-wing coalition parties.

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