Joint List party head Ayman Odeh campaigned for Israeli elections like a troubadour. He went town to town speaking of civil rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel often quoting poets and peaceniks alike, even the Hebrew bible. Now Odeh is bringing the goods to Jerusalem. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final hours of forming a ruling coalition to lead the country, Odeh’s group is organizing a mass march. Unrecognized villagers will camp and walk their way to Israel’s seat of government, all while their party’s leadership is tightening ties with presumed opposition heads in the Zionist Camp.
Riding off of their high voter turnout momentum, up 10% from 2013, the Joint List asked constituents today to join them on Thursday for a four-day, mass march from the southern Negev region to Jerusalem: President Reuven Rivlin’s house to be precise.
“The Joint list chooses to open its first term in the Knesset with a March For Recognition, to raise awareness of the unbearable reality of life for the residents of the unrecognized villages,” the Joint List said in a statement today.
Once in Jerusalem on the president’s doorstep, the Joint List will submit a blueprint for bringing legal status to the 80,000 Bedouins in shantytowns that pepper the desert. The Joint List said the plans are “a professional and realistic way to recognize and develop all 46 villages, which will benefit the entire population of the Negev, Arab and Jewish, and contribute to the development and regeneration of the Negev.” Moreover, Rivlin, the target, has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of Bedouins since taking office last year.
Negev Bedouins have the highest poverty rates and the worst living conditions in Israel. Their homes are made of tin and tarps, more often than not adjacent to open sewage and waste from one of the desert’s many factories. While their townships are deemed illegal by the state, because they were built without difficult-to-obtain permits, the government has recognized the special status of Bedouins as indigenous peoples to the land. They are the salt of the earth, yet so excluded from the privileges of being an Israeli citizen that their housing and lifestyle are more akin to stateless West Bank Palestinians than Jewish-Israelis who reside nearby.
This demonstration, the Joint List’s first project as a newly formed bloc, comes in lieu of participating in the horse race for minister positions. Nearly every other party is bidding for a trade-off from Netanyahu. The Jewish Home party is demanding top billing in the ruling coalition, flexing their power to solicit seats that would otherwise go to the Likud victors. They want Naftali Bennett in a key position usually reserved for the leading party (Likud in this case). Bennett is eyeing defense minister, foreign minister or justice minister. However, ever the strategist, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is pursuing defense minister. If he cinches this position it would be a mild increase of power.
The Israeli outlet Ynet News is reporting that Bennett and Lieberman’s plans could come to nothing, as Likud wants to keep Moshe Ya’alon in his current position as defense minister. Another possible candidate in the running is Netanyahu’s right hand man, the current Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz, who is also seeking the defense minister post. Netanyahu has given no indication of who will get the coveted seat.
Current Minister of Housing Uri Ariel and Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home are rumored to also be vying for the ministry of justice, again per Ynet. And Netanyahu has already offered the position of finance minister to centrist Moshe Kahlon from Kulanu.
The Joint List didn’t bother. They emphatically said to President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday that they would never endorse a Netanyahu government, telling press after the meeting “Netanyahu is not legitimate; his government will bring war and escalate racism.” They instead are turning their attention to the Zionist Camp. Since election day last Tuesday Reut Mor, a spokesperson for Joint List head Ayman Odeh told me her candidate has been in daily contact with Zionist Camp head Issac Herzog. Mor said there is no specific agenda, but the two are forging a relationship.