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Gantz and Netanyahu are cut from the same cloth, but we’d like to see Netanyahu in jail — Palestinians on the Joint List endorsement

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In a rare move on Sunday, the Joint List of Arab parties in Israel endorsed Benny Gantz for Prime Minister, saying they were motivated by a desire to “put an end to the Netanyahu era.”

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh made the announcement during a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, ahead of Rivlin’s meeting with Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu to begin negotiations over the formation of a new government.

It was the first time an Arab party endorsed an Israeli leader in 27 years, since the Hadash party endorsed Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

In an Op-Ed for the New York Times, Odeh justified his decision, saying “We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored.” He wrote,

“Our decision to recommend Mr. Gantz as the next prime minister without joining his expected national unity coalition government is a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.”

While Odeh initially told Rivlin that all 13 MKs of the Joint List were “recommending him, period,” the Balad party, which holds three seats, stressed on Monday that the endorsement did not apply to its ministers. 

Head of the Ta’al faction, Ahmad Tibi, explained to Haaretz, “Balad has worked as part of the Joint List to take down Benjamin Netanyahu, and will clearly keep on doing so, but at the same time does not see Gantz as an alternative, when he and his party support the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, threaten with a war in Gaza and unwilling to annul the racist Nation-State Law.”

With the backing of only 10 of the 13 Joint List members, Gantz has only 54 recommendations out of the 120-seat Knesset, falling just short of Netanyahu’s 55.

Netanyahu used the Joint List’s backing of Gantz as a chance to double down on anti-Arab comments that he has been widely criticized for throughout his campaign, saying this is “exactly what we’ve been warning of.”

“Now, there are two options: Either a minority government backed by those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and praise terrorists… or a broad national unity government,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

The Joint List has positioned itself as having the best interests of all Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories at heart. Now that it is officially backing Gantz, Mondoweiss spoke to Palestinians in the West Bank to hear what they had to say about the move and the former Israeli army general Benny Gantz.

Mohammad Lutfi, 38, hospitality worker 

“For us as Palestinians, I believe our biggest challenge currently is to get rid of Netanyahu. We want to see him in jail. So while we don’t really support Gantz as an individual, I think it was a good strategic move on the part of the Joint List if it means helping get Netanyahu out of power.

“The Israeli far right and Netanyahu’s cronies are struggling to gain majority votes, which could be a good sign for us. Maybe Israelis are starting to realize that the rightwing cannot offer them what they need.

“The fact that the Arab leaders got 13 seats in the Knesset, I think, is a huge success for Palestinian representation.

“I was following the elections minute by minute, and I felt a sense of pride in the Palestinian leaders and was happy that Netanyahu didn’t win a majority. It’s a good sign for us.

“For us, there is not a huge difference between Gantz and Netanyahu. They are all part of the same Zionist system. Right or left wing, we [Palestinians] have experience with all of these leaders, and they all give us the same thing: more oppression and violence.

“I think Palestinians are happy that he [Netanyahu] failed, not because Gantz will necessarily be better, but because now Netanyahu will maybe go to jail for corruption.

“What we want as Palestinians is to find a decent Israeli leader who genuinely believes in peace, who can use their chance to achieve peace with the Palestinian government. We urge the Israeli people to put pressure on their leaders to move towards a real peace agreement on the ground, not just on paper.

“They need to give us our freedom of movement, of speech, to vote, to have our own country with borders, like any other country in the world.”

Marwan Sha’ban, 50, political tour guide

“I’m not really interested in the Israeli elections, but nonetheless as Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank we have to keep ourselves informed because the outcome will inevitably affect us.

“I’m pretty indifferent towards both options, Netanyahu and Gantz, because they are cut from the same cloth. Both of their political campaigns were characterized by anti-Palesitnian sentiment – maybe Netanyahu was more obvious — but Gantz as well campaigned on how many Palestinians he killed in Gaza, how his party came up with the idea of annexing the Jordan Valley first, etc.

“Whoever attacks Palestinians more is more successful with the Israeli public, and both Gantz and Netanyahu know that. I’m not waiting for anything positive [for Palestinians] to come out of either one of their premierships.

“People are saying Gantz is the better option than Netanyahu, but he could turn out to be even worse. Most of the Israeli leaders have problems in the courts. Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and Gantz is being tried for war crimes in the Netherlands. How can we think that leader like this can possibly be trusted?”

Tariq Abu Salama, 28, music teacher

“For me the results of the Israeli elections were not good. There is no hope for any good outcomes for us, except maybe the pressure that Palestinian leaders of the Joint List can put on politicians.

“This election is running on who can treat Palestinians worse. I’m not hopeful that Gantz will be better than Netanyahu, but a part of me is happy that Netanyahu may not be able to secure a coalition, because maybe he will go to jail and there will be some sense of justice.

“For me, Gantz is not better, he tried to show that he is a lover of democracy, but in the end we know he will only work to uphold the systems of apartheid that other Israeli politicians have done before him.

“For me, I’m sure he is no different than Netanyahu, but I hope that he can prove us wrong and maybe he will turn out to be a little better.

“In the end all of the Israeli politicians are the same. They are all part of the same system.”

Update: September 24, 2019, 9:50 a.m. This article originally misidentified Ahmad Tibi as the head of the Balad faction. He is the head of Ta’al, or the Arab Movement for Renewal.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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3 Responses

  1. Stephen Shenfield on September 23, 2019, 9:01 pm

    The impasse in Israeli politics may force Zionist politicians to deal with the Joint List and thereby admit the Palestinian citizens of Israel into their political system, not because they want to — they hate to do it — but because it offers the only way out of the impasse. No doubt Odeh understands this.

  2. Elizabeth Block on September 24, 2019, 9:14 am

    Yup. People say it’s Netanyahu that’s bad. No, I say, the politicians lined up to succeed him are just as bad, or worse.
    If – IF – the Joint List can actually have some influence, that may make a difference. I hope that if they are promised things, and Gantz reneges on those promises, they’ll dump him.
    (And, just maybe, the Joint List will (a) achieve unity and (b) get bigger next time.)
    But I’m not hopeful. Abbas threatened to resign a couple of times. If he had had any self-respect he would have done it.

  3. Misterioso on September 24, 2019, 10:14 am

    For the record:

    “The Only Way Israelis Can Form A Government: Betrayal”
    By Dr. James Zogby, American Arab Institute, Sept. 21/19

    “As expected, the outcome of Israel’s second national election was as murky as the first round in April. During the next few weeks, Israeli leaders will be engaged negotiations in an effort to form a government. The double-dealings and the betrayals that will need to occur for them to form a governing coalition will make ‘House of Cards’ look like a tea party.

    “The reasons for this are simple. The results of the election were close and inconclusive with no grouping, neither the one led by Prime Minister Netanyahu nor that of the main opposition led by former General Benny Gantz, in a position to easily cobble together the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a majority. In addition, there’s the fact that all of the major players have made, and continue to affirm, principled pledges which, if honored, will make creating a governing coalition impossible. Hence, either there are betrayals of pledges or partners or there will be no new government.

    “What follows is the state of play and the pledges made by all of the principled actors.

    “Gantz’s Blue and White coalition won 33 seats. The two ‘left’ parties with whom he can align won 11 seats (seven for Labor-Gesher and six for the Democratic Union). This only gives Gantz a total of 44 seats.

    “While most analysts also incorrectly add to Gantz’s total the 13 seats held by Joint Union (made up of four parties representing the Palestinian citizens of Israel), this will not occur for two reasons. Gantz made a pledge not to form a government ‘dependent on the Arabs.’ And, for their part, the Arab parties have said that while they would not vote against a Gantz-led government, if it meant ending Netanyahu’s rule, but they would only consider joining a governing coalition on the condition that it was committed to full equality for the Arab citizens of Israel and ending the occupation. These are conditions to which Gantz is ideologically opposed.

    “Gantz might also seek to include the 17 seats held by the two ultra-religious parties since this would give him the 61 he needs to form a majority. But Blue and White ran on a decidedly secular platform and he would find it difficult to add the religious parties who would demand that the government continue to provide funding for their institutions and uphold a number of restrictive religious prohibitions. This would put Gantz at loggerheads with the secular nationalist voters who formed his support base.

    “Since many of the Blue and White leadership were originally connected to Likud, it might appear logical for Gantz to turn to Likud, which won 31 seats in this election, in order to form a national unity government of the right. But here too, there are problems.

    “In the lead up to negotiations, Likud’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu secured a pledge from his partners (the two ultra-religious religious parties and the right-wing nationalist party, Yamina, which holds seven seats) that they would remain united and negotiate as an unbreakable union, under Netanyahu’s leadership. If this unity is upheld, it effectively rules out any partnership with Gantz who has insisted that he would not form a government on Netanyahu’s terms and certainly not with Netanyahu as the Prime Minister. In addition, if the Likud-led grouping maintains its unity, this would require Gantz accepting the religious parties and their demands.

    “Now while Gantz can claim the right to lead efforts to form the next government, since his Blue and White coalition won the most seats (33), Netanyahu, despite only winning 31 seats, is claiming that because he is entering the negotiations with a stronger hand, since his base of support is larger (a total of 55 Knesset seats – his 31, the religious parties’ 17, and Yamina’s seven), he should be the one to set the terms. This is, of course, out of the question for Gantz, since he has ruled out joining a government under Netanyahu and he will not form a government with the religious parties and their requirements.

    “If this seems murky, it’s because it is. And so Israelis are left with either a third election or watching their leaders betraying their partners and their pledges.

    “Seventeen members of the Likud might choose to betray Netanyahu, by dumping him as their leader and joining a Gantz-led government. This might occur if negotiations continue past the October date when the Attorney General has said he will begin proceedings that, in all likelihood, will lead to Netanyahu being indicted for crimes of corruption, bribery, and betrayal of the public trust.

    “There is also the possibility that Netanyahu could convince Avigdor Lieberman to rejoin his Likud government. The eight seats held by Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party would give Netanyahu 63 seats. But this would require Lieberman breaking his pledge not to join any government that is subservient to the demands of the religious parties. He’s done it before, and if Netanyahu’s offer/bribe is good enough, he might betray his pledge and do it again.

    “There is another scenario that cannot be discounted. Since Netanyahu remains Prime Minister during the negotiations, he could provoke a national emergency, like a war in Gaza or on the northern front. He might feel that the midst of a crisis, he would be in a stronger position to force concessions from Gantz and/or Lieberman.

    “Then there’s the less likely possibility that the long awaited ‘Deal of the Century’ is announced with terms unacceptable to right-wing Israelis in Lieberman’s and Gantz’s camps – thereby also playing into Netanyahu’s hands allowing him to plead for national unity to avert the crisis posed by the US demands. As I said, this is quite unlikely, for two reasons, Trump has already demonstrated his own capacity for betrayal by distancing himself from his ‘good friend Bibi.’ And it is hard to imagine that the ‘Deal’ would include any terms that would provoke a crisis in Israel.

    “Finally, there’s the very strong possibility that Netanyahu is indicted, forced to make a plea deal, and leave public life – or even go to prison. While this would clearly reshuffle the deck, it wouldn’t necessarily put Gantz in the driver’s seat, since that will depend on whether the remaining Likud membership will continue to maintain their pledge of unity with their religious party partners, or will betray them by joining a Gantz-led secular government.
    “Should that happen yet another betrayal may occur. With a coalition government of Blue and White and Likud ­– minus Netanyahu –the third largest Knesset grouping, the Joint List would rightly claim the right to lead the Knesset Opposition. This would give them an unprecedented role in Israeli society. In an effort to block this, some have suggested that the two religious parties, having been betrayed and dumped by Likud, may combine their 17 seats and demand the right to lead the Knesset Opposition – thereby denying Arabs their hard-fought victory.

    “It is of critical importance to note that in all of this haggling and betrayal, there is no mention of or concern for the rights of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Israeli society has moved so far to the right that Palestinians were not considered in this election. With the exception of the small left Democratic Union, all of the other parties were fine with settlement expansion and extending Israeli sovereignty to major parts of the West Bank, the annexation of Jerusalem, and the continued strangulation of Gaza.

    “The fact that there is so little focus in the West on the continued denial of Palestinian rights is the ultimate betrayal. Press coverage of the elections and the follow-up negotiations make no mention of Palestinians or the occupation. And the unwarranted liberal embrace of Gantz, as the ‘not Netanyahu,’ is its own form of betrayal – of the values of justice, human rights, and equality to which liberals claim to adhere.”

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