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.