Tue, Sep 24, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Arab bloc backs Netanyahu rival for PM

NOT SINCE RABIN:The Joint List has thrown its support behind Benny Gantz, the first time since 1992 that Arab parties have suggested a candidate for prime minister

Bloomberg

Members of the Joint List party meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, center, as he began talks with political parties over who should form a new government, at his residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Israel’s long-marginalized Arab minority is throwing around its newfound weight.

The Joint List of Arab parties, significantly strengthened by Israel’s inconclusive election on Tuesday last week, on Sunday recommended that former military chief Benny Gantz form the next government.

Its backing could nudge Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to tap Gantz instead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose nationalist campaign preyed on anti-Arab sentiment.

That Israeli Arabs would recommend Gantz, whose Blue and White bloc counts three former generals and several staunch nationalists, is in itself remarkable.

However, recommending Gantz “will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr Netanyahu,” Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said in a New York Times opinion piece published on Sunday.

“The Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have chosen to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade,” Odeh wrote. “We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored.”

It is the first time since former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin ran for office again in 1992 on a campaign to make peace with the Palestinians that Arab parties have recommended a candidate for prime minister.

Their willingness to enter the process at this tipping point in Israeli politics gave extra weight to the Joint List — and gave voice to a yearning for influence among a community that makes up more than one-fifth of Israel’s population.

However, the Balad party that is part of the Joint List did not go along with the majority decision, which means its three lawmakers cannot be included in any tally of support for Gantz.

Rivlin will pick a candidate after meeting with parliamentary factions this week to gauge who has the most support, though a numerical is not necessarily the deciding factor.

It is not clear Gantz would be able to line up enough lawmakers to form a coalition even if he has the most backing and is given a shot.

Odeh said the Joint List — the Knesset’s third-largest party — would not sit in a government with Gantz, because he refused to commit to the Arab bloc’s demands, including a resumption of direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the repeal of a controversial law enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in law.

Arab parties have never been in the Cabinet.

Rivlin was due to hold a joint meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz last night to press for a unity government, his office said yesterday.

Additional reporting by AFP

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