Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz said Tuesday that the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties “won't be a part of my government," should he be recommended to form a government after the March 2 election, adding, "I will act to implement President Trump's peace plan."
Gantz, speaking at an event launching a campaign headquarters in the Arab town Bi'ina, also addressed the portion of Trump's plan that calls for Arab-majority areas of Israel to become part of a Palestinian state, saying: “On my tours in the area, I've been hearing concern about recent talk of handing the Triangle over to the Palestinians. I want to take this topic off the table and make it clear that no Israeli citizen, Jewish or Arab, will be forcibly relocated to the territory of a different country."
“I know that there are people who want Israel's Arab voters to stay home on March 2," Gantz said. "There are extremist voices like that on the margins of Arab society as well, and there are voices and actions that cooperate with them on the right in Jewish society. It's a dangerous alliance.”
The Kahol Lavan chairman also emphasized the differences between his party and the Joint List. “The Joint Arab List and I are deeply divided on the diplomatic, national and security concerns of the State of Israel," he said. "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, the only one of its kind, which must protect itself from its outside enemies."
Gantz further said that he intends "to implement President Trump's peace plan, in coordination with all actors in the region, and I see it as a significant milestone.”
“Israel can't suffer support terrorism, and Israel can't tolerate evasion in condemning it. I've made it clear before and I'll say it again – I'm not afraid of talking to any legitimate political party, but the Joint Arab List won't be a part of my government. My disagreements with its leadership on national and security matters alone are deep, difficult and irreconcilable."
Earlier Tuesday, Odeh said the party will not recommend that Gantz form the next government unless he makes a clear statement against annexation.
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“If we don’t hear a very clear statement from him against the transfer and annexation, there’s no way we will recommend him,” Odeh said in an interview on Army Radio on Tuesday.
“I want to hear from Gantz in the most explicit way that he opposes a transfer” of Arab citizens of Israel to a Palestinian state, said Odeh. “They are silent about the attack on the Arab population, Netanyahu’s attack. Let Gantz say something. Does he think that we’re in his pocket?”
After the release of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan two weeks ago, Gantz said the plan “faithfully reflects the basic principles written in Kahol Lavan’s platform.”
“This is a historic opportunity to shape Israel’s borders and future,” said Gantz. “As prime minister, I will work to implement the plan in all its steps. Responsible Palestinian leadership should accept the principles of the plan.”
He also expressed reservations about any immediate steps for annexation, saying: “Hasty and irresponsible actions that are not coordinated with Jordan, Egypt and moderate Arab countries endanger the ability to implement” the Mideast plan, but Gantz did say he intends on bringing the plan to the Knesset for approval.
Odeh said his party will not support any government in which Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, is a member. “We have nothing in common with Lieberman,” he said. "He's a rightist and behind the idea of the transfer of the Arabs of the Triangle communities to a Palestinian state."
Trump’s Mideast plan includes a provision raising the possibility that Israel’s Arab citizens living in an area of Israel known as “The Triangle” would be stripped of their Israeli citizenship and live under Palestinian rule.
The average of polls over the last week show the Joint List with 13 and a half Knesset seats after the March 2 election, while Kahol Lavan is projected 35. But Odeh said he expects his party will win 16 seats.
“We are capable of reaching 61 MKs without Lieberman. We have begun strengthening, we will reach 15 or 16 seats, and no one can succeed [in forming a government] without us. We are challenging the system,” said Odeh.
Last month, a senior member of the Joint List told Haaretz that Gantz has not left any opening in the present election campaign for cooperation with the Joint List, and the party’s leaders will find it difficult to support him.
If in the previous election, the heads of the Joint List managed to provide explanations for why they recommended Gantz for prime minister, this time around “the situation is much more complex and complicated,” said the senior party member.
Lawmakers from the Joint List said Gantz’s support for annexation of the Jordan Valley and his support for Trump’s Mideast plan are two challenging issues that could limit the party’s ability to cooperate with Kahol Lavan in the government and Knesset.
This is in addition to Kahol Lavan’s representatives in the Central Elections Committee voting in favor of banning Joint List member Heba Yazbak from running in the upcoming Knesset election.
In an interview with Haaretz last month, Odeh said about backing Gantz for prime minister: “Our recommendation was technical, with the main recommendation being not Netanyahu. Gantz can turn our technical recommendation into a fundamental one if his approach is that of the Rabin government in the ‘90s. In such a case, we’ll act the way we acted then and we’ll be a bloc” to prevent Netanyahu from remaining prime minister.