Ayman Odeh voting for the 20th Israeli parliament. (Zaher332/Wikimedia Commons)

Expert: Blue and White Could ‘Become History’ after Israeli Election

Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Ayman Odeh’s apparent willingness join a center-left government might not only hand Netanyahu the election, but destroy Benny Gantz’s political career, professor says

Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint (Arab) List, made waves in a preview of an interview to be published Friday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, saying that under certain conditions he might partner in a “center-left government” with Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) after Israel’s September 17 election.

These conditions include the formation of a new Arab city, overturning the Nation-State Law passed in 2018 that defines Israel as a Jewish state, restarting peace talks with the Palestinians, and ending Israel’s military presence in the West Bank. Odeh is also head of Hadash, one of the four parties that make up the Joint List.

Arab parties have never been a part of a ruling coalition in Israel, which requires garnering support from at least 61 members in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

However, many politicians in Odeh’s Joint List reject his willingness to consider joining Zionist parties in a coalition, with several leaders having already expressed opposition to his stance.

“I see two trends in Arab-Israeli society: one which rejects the Jewish state and one that wants to integrate,” Shmuel Sandler, professor emeritus of political science at Bar Ilan University, told The Media Line. “Odeh is representing the part that wants to integrate, which [is the majority].”

Sandler said it was difficult to know whether Odeh’s demands could be feasible for Blue and White, which is running neck-and-neck in the polls with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. According to projections, it will not be easy for either party to form a coalition. This means that the support of Odeh and even a few members of the Joint List could determine whether a Blue and White-led bloc can assemble a majority in the Knesset.

“Everything will depend on the results of the election. At this point, it is very difficult to know,” Sandler said.

When contacted by The Media Line, a spokesperson for Blue and White would not comment on the development. While Benny Gantz, this list’s No. 1, has not weighed in, the other parties that might make up his prospective center-left coalition have already made it clear that they will not participate if the Arab parties join.

Some people believe that Odeh’s statement was more of a stunt to get attention, rather than a serious effort to become part of the government, as many of Odeh’s conditions would never be accepted by Blue and White.

However, Dr. Morderchai Kedar, head of Professors for a Strong Israel, a self-described nonpartisan group of academics, said that it did not matter if all of Odeh’s requirements to join Blue and White were met, as these were just his opening positions for negotiations. If even a few of Odeh’s stipulations were accepted by Blue and White, Odeh could declare victory, Kedar said.

“He will tell his supporters we can achieve ‘a,’ ‘b’ and ‘c’ but we will wait on ‘d’ and ‘e,’” Kedar said.

Kedar contended that Odeh’s announcement was motivated by a desire to attract more votes from the Arab-Israeli community, which traditionally has a low turn-out for national elections.

Odeh is trying to appeal to the friends of people such as Itzik Noach, who lives in the Galilee, an area with a large Arab-Israeli population. Noach told The Media Line: “My Arab friends are upset with the representation they are getting. I suggest that the Arab population chooses leaders who are loyal to the State of Israel, because by and large the Arab population is happy with the Israeli leadership.”

Kedar believes that Odeh is doing this because he feels that to beat Netanyahu, he has no other option but to cooperate with Gantz.

“Odeh thinks that joining efforts with Kahol Lavan is the only way to get rid of the right-wing. [But] Kahol Lavan is named for the colors of the Israeli flag; this is something [Odeh and the Arab parties] cannot symbolically join,” Kedar qualified.

Ironically, Odeh’s actions could have the opposite of his intended effect.

“I think that this is a game changer,” Kedar said. “It will push many Israelis away from Kahol Lavan to join the Likud.

“For many Jewish Israelis,” he continued, “instead of [choosing between] Gantz or Netanyahu, it [will now be] Bibi or Tibi,” Kedar asserted, referring to the prime minister’s nickname and Ahmad Tibi, the head of Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al), one of the parties that make up the Joint List. Tibi has already announced he will not support joining the coalition.

The idea of Arab parties making crucial decisions regarding security is a hard sell in Israel. While Kedar does not believe that Odeh will be part of the government, he said that if Arab parties were to join, “Israeli politics would be viewed as illegitimate by most citizens.”

As a result, Kedar concluded that “there is a possibility Kahol Lavan will become history because of this declaration by Odeh.”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)

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