Joint List Says It Doesn't Outright Reject Joining Government After Arab Israeli Leader's Overture

'It's too soon to declare our final stance,' party says in a statement after it initially dismissed Ayman Odeh's remarks that he was willing to sit in a Gantz-led coalition

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh at the launch of the party's election campaign in Tel Aviv, August 20, 2019.
David Bachar

The Joint List does not outright reject joining a future government following the September 17 Knesset election, the union of Arab parties said in a statement released over the weekend.

The statement came after party leaders slammed chairman Ayman Odeh's remarks Thursday that he would not rule out joining a coalition led by Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz. 

>> Read more: Israeli Arab leader's rare overture could lead to harmful consequences | Analysis

"It's too soon to declare our final stance regarding developments and stances [pertaining to the situation] after the election," a statement by the party read. 

"The final stance of the Joint List has yet to be decided and will be determined according to the results of the election, the conduct of the different parties and their declarations and viewpoints regarding issues of the Arab society and the Palestinian people," the statement added. 

The Joint List slammed the other political parties, made up of Jewish lawmakers, for not taking an interest in the opinions of Arab lawmakers. "It's pretty clear that the Zionist parties that make up governments do not acknowledge our natural right to influence decision-making. This was apparent after Ayman Odeh made his declarations and put the political arena to the test." 

Odeh said in an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot that he would be willing to recommend Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin as the candidate for making up the coalition, and that he would also be open to joining a center-left governing coalition. Odeh said: "We will be partners in the government only if the Arab citizens will no longer be second-class citizens." However, members of the Joint List — including members of Odeh's Hadash party — rejected his statement. 

Kahol Lavan ruled out the possibility of adding the Joint List to any future government the party may be a member of. Moshe Ya'alon, a former defense minister and number 3 on Kahol Lavan's slate, told Army Radio on Friday: "I don't object to having an Arab minister, but he would have to accept that the State of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state."

On Saturday, Gantz reiterated this condition, and said he thinks "there are problematic elements" in the Joint List. In an interview with Channel 12's "Meet the Press," he added that he is learning about the issues of the Arab population and wants to serve it.

Odeh, in turn, told "Meet the Press" that he doesn't understand why Gantz is ruling out a coalition with the Joint List if he's truly for peace, equality and democracy. "He must view me as an Arab, and that's racist. Imagine this happened in the United States with a Jew, for example." 

He added that the Joint List's condition for entering a coalition is that the government will lead a meaningful process toward the end of military occupation of the Palestinians, and equality for Arab citizens of Israel.