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Top Balad lawmaker: Gantz didn’t call me, but I won’t meet with him in any case

Blue and White chief speaks to senior MKs of the other factions in Joint List; Mtanes Shihadeh says he does not want to talk

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Mtanes Shihadeh of the Joint List, leader of the Balad party, attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, August 20, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Mtanes Shihadeh of the Joint List, leader of the Balad party, attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, August 20, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Joint List MK Mtanes Shihadeh said Thursday that he did not receive a phone call from Benny Gantz on Wednesday after President Reuven Rivlin granted the Blue and White chief the mandate to form a governing coalition.

The Joint List is made up of a coalition of four Arab-majority parties: Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad.

Shihadeh is the top lawmaker in the alliance representing Balad.

Gantz, however, did speak to the top lawmakers of the three other parties that make up the Joint List on Wednesday —  Hadash leader Ayman Odeh, Ta’al leader Ahmad Tibi, and Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas — according to a Blue and White statement.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether he saw any benefit in speaking or meeting with Gantz, Shihadeh responded in the negative.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks after being tasked with forming a new Israeli government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Blue and White spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Balad is a secular and nationalist party that adamantly opposes the notion that Israel is an exclusively Jewish state and strongly supports turning it into a country with equal national and civil rights for Arabs and Jews.

It was the sole party in the Joint List that did not recommend Gantz to Rivlin in September to serve as prime minister.

The party issued a statement at the time explaining that it opposed recommending Gantz because of his “Zionist ideology, his right-wing positions that are not much different from those of Likud, his bloody and aggressive military history” and other reasons.

Immediately after receiving the mandate to form a government from Rivlin on Wednesday evening, Gantz began speaking with party leaders and inviting them to meet to negotiate their potential entry into the Blue and White-led coalition he hopes to establish, while also setting up meetings between his party’s negotiating team and other parties’ counterparts.

Leader of the Joint list Ayman Odeh (R) and party member Ahmad Tibi arrive for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Odeh, who is head of the Joint List, said that he has agreed to meet with the Blue and White leader and that “all options are on the table if we see a real alternative for peace and equality,” despite the faction previously ruling out joining a Gantz coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was initially tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers after September’s inconclusive elections (Likud: 32; Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7 and Yamina: 7).

Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp: 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the Joint List).

If Gantz fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends November 20, a majority of lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset could try to endorse any Knesset member — including Netanyahu and Gantz — as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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