The Joint List of Arab parties' decision to recommend Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister on Sunday will be constantly scrutinized by the Arab public.
Gantz has already joined two generals who preceded him. In 1992, Arab parties endorsed late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who made great strides promoting the political process and acute civil issues in Israel's Arab community. In 1999, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, unlike Rabin, didn’t need the recommendation of the Arab parties, and gained an overwhelming support from the Arab public in the direct election for prime minister in which he contended against Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the Arab public will always remember Barak as the one heading the government during the Events of October 2000 —a week of violent confrontations between the Israel Police and the country’s Arab citizens, which led to the death of 13 Arabs — and the collapse the political process.
True, the recommendation of the Arab alliance is a preliminary move and doesn’t determine whether Gantz will form the government, but the Joint List and the general Arab public's expectation is that Gantz appreciates the gesture and reciprocates.
Touching on the question of how the Arab community really views Gantz, the answer isn’t unequivocal. During Kahol Lavan's election campaign, Gantz spoke about ways to deal with the scourges plaguing the Arab society, including fighting rampant violence and the issue of planning and construction, knowing that the political process isn’t a top priority on the Arab sector's agenda.
At the same time, Gantz completely ignored the Joint List and sought to form a unity government with Likud. The Arab alliance members realize they have taken a complex stance. Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh deemed the decision historic, adding it is meant to help end Netanyahu's rule. This goal justifies recommending Gantz for prime minister, even if a unity government would be eventually established. Odeh, alongside Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List and Ahmad Tibi of Ta’al, are trying to convey another message: Israel's Arab citizens want to enter the political game and influence. Endorsing Gantz is a step in that direction.
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Odeh, as opposed to Tibi and Abbas, took a gamble within his own Hadash party. As far as he is concerned, this is proof of his ability to lead. But he is liable to pay a heavy price if in the end Gantz takes measures and makes decisions against the Arab and Palestinian public. Odeh, Tibi and Abbas explained that recommending Gantz was not the convenient choice, but rather a direct continuation to the election campaign they led, which focused on bringing down Netanyahu.
Balad was determined not to recommend anyone, but in practice the party made clear that despite their opposition to endorsing Gantz for prime minister, the recommendation would not lead to the dissolution of the slate. Balad knows very well that in the April election they were on the verge of being eliminated. You don’t change a winning horse.
Meanwhile, until the overall picture becomes clearer, the Joint List has succeeded to convey to the general Israeli public that they want to influence who will be Israel’s next prime minister. The question is whether Gantz, Kahol Lavan and the State of Israel are prepared to view Arab citizens and their representatives as legitimate partners who can help set the national agenda, or will they push them out, sending a message to the entire Arab public.