Arab Parties Are Readying to Back Gantz — but Will He Invite Them to the Negotiating Table?

Joint List leaders and members are saying that they would support a Gantz government from the opposition. But they have their apprehensions

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, with MKs Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas, after the Joint List presented their Knesset slate, August 1, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Joint List of Arab parties is expected to accept Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz's invitation to holds negotiations over supporting him as a candidate for the premiership while remaining outside the coalition. 

Gantz, a former Israeli army chief of staff, will receive from President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday the mandate to try and form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced earlier this week that he cannot establish a coalition. Gantz will have 28 days to try and forge a government. 

Netanyahu just announced he can't form gov't. What happens next?Haaretz

Whether the Joint List will receive the Kahol Lavan leader's formal invitation, and what the purpose of the negotiations will entail, has yet to be seen. Regardless, in conversations with Haaretz, leaders and some members of the list’s four parties – Hadash, Ta’al, the United Arab List and Balad – did not object to negotiating their support from outside the government.

As the Joint List believes that Gantz is still striving for a unity government, its members do not expect an invitation to the table. Communication between the two sides has been chiefly managed by Kahol Lavan’s negotiation team and Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, as well as party whip MK Ahmad Tibi.

“There is communication and discussions that I’m holding mainly with Kahol Lavan officials,” Tibi said, “but in the meantime we don’t foresee a situation of a minority government that’s supported [from the opposition] by the Joint List, but rather intent to form a unity government. If there will be an invitation, we’ll sit and decide as a party and as a quartet.”

Odeh expressed his reservations that Kahol Lavan may use the list as a means to form a unity government. “We don’t want to be the scarecrow who is used to frighten Likud or right-wing parties,” he said. In past weeks, Odeh has expressed that he would like to bring the Arab public back into the circle of influence in Israeli politics, as was in the 1990s. He wants to end the political isolation of Israeli Arabs, which has been the case since the events of October 2000. The results of the recent election, he says, are an opportunity to do so.

The United Arab List party is also interested in holding negotiations to support Gantz, if invited to do so. “All along the way, we’ve said that we want to have influence and support anything that can serve our public,” Party Chairman MK Mansour Abbas said.

Abbas repeated the sentiment in a radio interview Tuesday: “The Joint List came onto the field to play the game. We might succeed in setting a new status quo in which everyone deals with the Arab List as a legitimate list with which to negotiate.” He added, “When we recommended Gantz [as prime minister], there were also disagreements. Everything depends on what he offers us in negotiations.”

Balad, which refused to recommend that Gantz receive the mandate to form a coalition following the September 17 election, has been careful not to express decisive opposition to supporting Gantz from the opposition in closed-door meetings. The party assumes that the Arab community is in favor of holding a position of influence in Israel society, and wants to preserve the integrity of the Joint List in the event that another round of elections is held in a few months.

Balad Chairman MK Mtanes Shehadeh said that, in principle, his party opposes supporting Gantz, but he added that “the moment that it becomes relevant, Balad will discuss it.”

The Joint List stressed that if Kahol Lavan initiates negotiations, the parties will hold official talks. “There will be no rubber stamp to any attempts at shortcuts or allegedly secret meetings – there will be an official team that will sit down with Kahol Lavan’s team and represent our demands,” one party MK said.