On Thursday, Joint List Party chairman Ayman Odeh made a dramatic announcement. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, the Arab politician said that under certain circumstances he would be willing to lead his party into joining the ruling government coalition.
His conditions for this to happen: A renewal of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority; the annulment of the controversial Nation-State Law which downgraded the status of Arabic in Israel; a stop to the demolition of Arab homes; a crackdown on illegal weapons in Israeli-Arab communities; and the establishment of a new Arab city, something that hasn’t happened since 1948.
As Udi Shaham asked in Friday’s Jerusalem Post: “Who would openly say that they are against equal investments in all sectors in the Israeli society? Who would say that they are against confiscating tens of thousands illegal weapons?”
Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is everybody. Odeh’s olive branch was immediately broken in half by members of his own party, Likud and Blue and White, the party that would potentially lead the government he is prepared to join.
First there was his party. Balad’s Mtanes Shehadeh said that Odeh was speaking for himself and not for the entire list. He said there was no chance of joining a party led by racists and generals. The No. 4 candidate in Blue and White, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Thursday that his party would not invite the Joint Arab List to a coalition.
“We will not invite a party that does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” Ashkenazi said in a radio interview.
And the Likud of course used Odeh’s announcement to attack Blue and White. “Now it’s clearer than ever: Benny Gantz will form a left-wing government with Ayman Odeh and the Arab parties. Anyone who wants a right-wing government must vote for Likud.”
The only party to recognize the positive step was the Democratic Union, whose co-leader Stav Shafir said that “Odeh understands that his outlook must change because in a true democracy, all citizens must be at the table, both in the parliament and the government.”
This is a pity, since Odeh’s statement is nothing short of a revolution and signifies what, on the surface, seems like the transformation that is taking place among Israeli-Arabs, who constitute two million of Israel’s nearly 8.7 million citizens.
If the country was not in the midst of a heated election campaign, it is possible that its politicians would approach Odeh’s statement differently. Instead, almost everyone is playing populist politics. For Likud, the Arab parties are traitors; for Blue and White, responding positively would make it seem like it is a left-wing party when it is trying so hard to be right-wing.
Odeh’s revelation was a reflection of what his voters want. In January, a survey by Abraham Initiatives found that nearly two-thirds of Israeli-Arabs support Arab parties joining the governing coalition. Support was even higher when the question was specifically asked about joining a Center-Left government.
Israel has a wide-range of problems that a future government will need to deal with once it takes office. Some of those include stopping discrimination of Israeli-Arabs, working to increase their integration in the workforce (especially the women) and taking steps to improve their education system. Basically, the government needs to give Israeli-Arabs a feeling that they are not disenfranchised, but are part and parcel of this country even if it is known as “The Jewish State of Israel.”
Israel as a country was established on the foundation of equality and coexistence between the different peoples in this land – Jews and Arabs.
“The State of Israel…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” is how the state’s Declaration of Independence put it in 1948.
Don’t push Odeh away. Challenge him and his constituents.