Joint Arab List Turns Down Invite From Arab League

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Joint List leader Ayman Odeh (left) with MKs Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, February 17, 2015.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Knesset Members of the Joint Arab List decided on Monday to turn down an invitation by the Arab League's for a meeting at the League's headquarters in Cairo, saying they would rather focus on issues directly related to the Israeli Arab public.

After holding consultations, party members said that the timing was not right for such a meeting, but that party would revisit the proposal in the future.

Despite these official explanations, however, Haaretz has learned that party members were concerned that attending a meeting with the Arab League would draw criticism from their constituents for focusing on foreign affairs rather than urgent domestic issues.

The Arab League has shown great interest in the Joint Arab List - which has become the third-largest party in the Knesset – and is keen to hear its views on the political developments in Israel.

The invitation was relayed on Saturday night by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to party leader Ayman Odeh. While the party deliberated on whether to accept the invite, differences emerged between the different parties who make up the list regarding the scope of relations with the Arab world - particularly in the context of the crises in Arab countries such as Syria and Yemen.  

According to Palestinian sources, a suggestion was made to hold the meeting in Doha, Qatar, rather than in Cairo. This idea, however, was turned down: "Qatar is perceived as a divisive element over which there is no consensus among the Arab Israeli public," a party member explained. Qatar, the official added, is involved in almost every development in the Arab world, including the situation in Syria. "As far as we're concerned, the Arab League's headquarters is in Cairo, and such a visit – if it comes to fruition – should take place there," the official said.

This issue and others were discussed in the Joint Arab List's meeting on Monday. Some members in the list – which is made up of four parties – are wary of Palestinian and Arab attempts to "smother" them. "We receive and hear things as if the List won the prime minister's office," said a party MK, "and there is a high level of expectations that is incongruous with Israel's political map."

The party is still awaiting an exact date for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While the premier offered to meet on April 27 – a day before the planned strike over house demolitions in Kafr Kana and Dahamesh – the Joint Arab List prefers to meet as early as this week or postpone the meeting by one week. Postponing the meeting would allow the party to present the prime minister with a working plan rather than hold what would amount to a courtesy meeting.

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