Joint List Says It Won't Negotiate With Gantz Without Faction That Didn't Back Him

Joint List head says that while Balad did not recommend Gantz to the president to form a government, 'neither did all the heads of the right-wing parties, and he spoke to them'

Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi arrive at a meeting in Bnei Berak, October 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Joint List would only hold negotiations about entering a government with Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan as a whole, with all four of the parties that make up the slate, the largely Arab slate said in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement came after Gantz held talks with only three of the four parties – without approaching the chairman of one of its components, Balad.

The chairman of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, who represents the Hadash party within the slate, told Haaretz that the Joint List would not conduct itself according to the wishes of Kahol Lavan. “If Gantz wants to talk to the Joint List, he can talk to me,” Odeh said, “but the moment he decides to talk to the heads of the [other] parties, he can’t ignore one party or another.”

Odeh conceded that Balad had not recommended Gantz to the president to form a government, but points out that “neither did all the heads of the right-wing parties, and he spoke to them.”

In the aftermath of the September elections, three of the Joint List's parties – Hadash, Ta'al and the United Arab List – recommended that President Reuven Rivlin give Gantz the mandate to form a government. The list's fourth party, Balad, abstained.

In a Ha'aretz op-ed, Balad Chairman Mtanes Shehadeh elaborated that his party views Gantz's policies on the occupation, economics and Israel's Arabs as similar to those of Netanyahu.

Odeh emphasized that the Joint List would maintain its integrity as a slate, and that there is no chance that only part of the list would come to the negotiating table. If talks get underway, he said, the Joint List's demands include annulling a law increasing penalties for illegal construction, overturning the nation-state law, ratcheting up the fight against crime in Arab communities, and changing diplomatic policies.

Ta'al Chairman MK Ahmad Tibi told Haaretz that the talks had been “a kind of polite conversation,” but that unlike other parties, no concrete date had been set for negotiations. Tibi added that he believed Gantz had been wrong not to talk to Shehadeh, and that the Joint List as a whole had not yet discussed negotiations.

“If we establish a negotiating team it will include everyone, and we’ll present the demands of the Joint List,” Tibi said. According to Tibi, there would be no possibility of splitting the party, as happened when Balad broke rank with the Joint List in not recommend Gantz to the president to form a government.

Shehadeh said that it was “not so interesting” that Gantz had not called them, but that they were a part of the Joint List “and that’s the way we’ll conduct ourselves.” Meanwhile, Shehadeh added, “the entire discourse on negotiations is theoretical. The moment there is something concrete, we’ll seriously consider anything that’s put on the table.”

In an interview with Nazareth's Radio al-Shams, United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas said his party is aware of the concern that talks with it were meant to leverage pressure on Likud. He added that the Joint List's support of a minority government led by Gantz would help broaden his government in the future, but that being said, the scenario of a minority government currently seems unrealistic.

According to a senior figure in Hadash, “The discussion and conduct so far require us to be careful and not fall into Gantz’s trap." He said that the Joint List had won the confidence of the Arab public because it had unified its ranks. He added: “There might be elections in another few months or a year, and we’ll have to turn to the Arab community and ask for its vote of confidence. And so any move has to be very cautious.”