Israel Election Results: Why Arab Parties Did Not Fully Endorse Gantz

What appears as an ideological rift within the alliance of Arab factions may in fact have been coordinated with Benny Gantz's party

Joint List head Ayman Odeh and Balad faction leader Mtanes Shehadeh at the Knesset on Sunday.
Olivier Fitoussi

Mtanes Shehadeh, head of the Balad faction of the Joint List, confirmed to Haaretz on Monday that he had personally approached the director-general of President Reuven Rivlin’s bureau with the message that the faction objected to recommending Benny Gantz for prime minister. Balad wanted to make sure its members’ names were removed from the list of those who had given the Kahol Lavan leader their endorsement, Shehadeh said.

But Rivlin’s office demanded to receive their request in writing, including the signatures of Joint List leader Ayman Odeh and Knesset party whip Ahmed Tibi. Odeh and Tibi handed in the request on Monday, after trying unsuccessfully to persuade Shehadeh to change his mind so that they wouldn’t be handing Netanyahu an advantage in the consultations. But Balad insisted, and the letter was submitted, formally reducing Gantz’s number of recommendations to 54 while Netanyahu’s is 55.

Haaretz has learned that under the initial understanding reached by the heads of the four parties that make up the Joint List, the alliance’s decision was supposed to be binding on all its members, which is what Odeh and Tibi told Rivlin when they met on Sunday. But Balad leaders, among them former lawmakers Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka sharply criticized that decision afterwards.

>> Read more: By backing Gantz, Arab slate signals its public seeks to influence national agenda | Analysis 

Meanwhile, some sources in Balad suggested that their letter dissociating from the Gantz recommendation had been written with Tibi,Odeh and Kahol Lavan’s agreement, as Gantz’s party did not wish to be the first to be asked to form the government. But Odeh, Tibi and Kahol Lavan have denied any such collusion.

Members of Hadash, another party in the Joint List, also objected to recommending Gantz to the president. MK Aida Touma-Sliman posted on Facebook: “This is Gantz’s fateful moment. Either he’s an alternative or he’s a Netanyahu double. We can’t be expected to recommend Gantz, after which he’ll rush to form a unity government. We demand a path that leads to a horizon that includes a hope for peace, justice, an end to the siege of Gaza, true equality, national and civil.”

Touma-Sliman’s remarks were also seen as directed against Odeh. But all party members of the Joint List alliance said they remain united despite these differences.