Israel May Face First Arab to Lead Parliamentary Opposition

Joint List chair, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), was interviewed by Israel’s Reshet Bet (Network B) radio in August, to discuss possible outcomes of the September 17 general elections. Odeh told his audience that if Benny Gantz’s Blue & White Party forms a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud, Odeh, leading a projected bloc of 11 to 13 seats in the Knesset, will emerge as the first Arab head of the Knesset opposition parties.

“Gantz is neither politically or intellectually ripe,” Odeh said, adding that if Gantz “had Rabin’s courage – I would have had the courage to join a blocking bloc.”

According to Israeli law, the prime minister must invite the leader of the opposition in the Knesset, as needed,  but no less often than once a month, to confer with and update him on state affairs. Thus, if Odeh indeed becomes the leader of the Knesset opposition, this would obligate the prime minister to regularly meet with him on foreign affairs and state security.

Odeh blasted Gantz, as lacking courage and being against true equality for all citizens of Israel, after the head of Blue & White seemingly rejected an historic offer by Hadash and the Joint List, published a day earlier in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, to join a government coalition led by Gantz, if the latter met a number of demands.

Members of the Blue & White party dismissed Odeh’s offer out of hand. Odeh told Channel 12 news on Saturday: “The ball is in Gantz’s court, but he has not returned it — he is the intransigent one,” and continued: “I don’t know why he rejects my offer; if he really is for peace, equality, democracy, social justice – he should accept it. However, apparently he is against these.”

Odeh also attacked Gantz for his ambiguity regarding peace efforts with the Palestinians. “I’ve never heard him speak of two-states,” Odeh said. “He has no platform. He should say what it is so we can move forward. …If Gantz has the courage to be like [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin in the 1990s, I will have the courage and all the respect in the world, to be like Tawfik Ziad,” Odeh said, referring to the late Communist leader and Hadash chairman who voted to support the establishment of Rabin’s government in 1992, allowing the Labor Party head to enter the Oslo peace negotiations several months later.

According op-ed writer Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz: “The disgraceful response of the heads of Kahol Lavan [Blue & White, colors of the Israeli flag] to the statement of Ayman Odeh offered definitive proof of their cowardice or their right-wing credentials, and it’s not clear which is worse. It is safe to assume that the heads of Kahol Lavan seemingly agree with most of Odeh’s theoretical conditions for joining the government; only their fear of being painted in too-left-a-light pushed them to a response that moved them to the right of Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit. When [they] treat Odeh as if he were contagious, their incitement affects centrist voters, not the extremist’s hard-core activist settlers.”


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