Israel Election: Kahol Lavan MK Asked Arab Leaders to Ensure Netanyahu Gets First Crack at Forming Government

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he was contacted by Ofer Shelah, who asked him to ensure that only 10 of 13 lawmakers endorse Gantz — handing Netanyahu a majority

Ayman Odeh, speaks alongside other Joint List leaders, following his consultation with President Rivlin, September 22, 2019.
Menahem Kahana,AP

Chairman of the Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, said Wednesday that he was contacted by Kahol Lavan lawmaker, Ofer Shelah, who asked that only 10 members of his party endorse Benny Gantz during consultations with President Reuven Rivlin over who should get the mandate to attempt to form a governing coalition.

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Shelah made this request to ensure that the Kahol Lavan leader doesn't receive a majority of party leader recommendations, guaranteeing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would get the first crack at forming a coalition, Odeh said.

Shelah did not deny the move when asked about it in an interview with Army Radio on Thursday morning.

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Odeh revealed his contacts with Shelah in a Facebook live video, saying that this information was meant to help clarify why three Balad lawmakers from his party retracted their support for Gantz. Odeh added that the three faction members were indeed against recommending Gantz from an ideological perspective, and that while he did not agree with them, he respects their wishes.

Shelah evaded questions about how this tactical decision played out. "Ayman Odeh made a leadership call for the Arab party to endorse a candidate for the first time in 25 years, I think it was an appropriate decision," he told Army Radio. "I don't decide for them who they will back."

On Sunday, Balad, one of four factions that make up Joint List, released an independent statement clarifying that it did not support the party's endorsement of Gantz. Balad members said that they resisted during the party's internal vote on the matter, but had to accept the decision of the majority.

Mtanes Shehadeh speaks at a campaign rally, September 15, 2019.
AFP

On Monday, Balad announced that they could not follow through with the recommendation and rescinded their support, leaving Gantz with 10 recommendations instead of the full 13 he would have otherwise received.

As Haaretz reported, Balad's decision was backed by internal pressures from entities within the faction, as well as attempts at persuasion from other Joint List faction leaders. Those entities pressured Balad Chairman Mtanes Shehadeh to back up his faction's statement of resistance with action.

Shehadeh confirmed to Haaretz that he personally contacted the chief of the President's Residence to convey the message. The President's Residence, in turn, asked Shehadeh to provide the president with a written statement signed by Odeh or Ta'al leader Ahmad Tibi, Shehadeh said.

Sources in Balad attempted to portray Shehadeh's contacts with Rivlin as a move that was coordinated between Tibi, Odeh and Kahol Lavan. All three denied such coordination.

On Wednesday evening, Rivlin announced that he was tasking Netanyahu with forming a coalition, as talks between Likud and Kahol Lavan to form a unity government reached a deadlock.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the head of Likud's negotiation team, Yariv Levin, told Kan Bet that the Likud is "explicitly ready and willing to conduct their negotiations along the guidelines described by Israel's president."

According to Levin, the president's proposal – which suggests a unity government evenly composed of members from the right and center-left blocs – is "proper and logical."

Levin accused Kahol Lavan of attempting "to crumble the unity of the right-wing camp" in their refusal to negotiate with all the right-wing parties as a single entity.

When asked by interviewers if Netanyahu would step down if indicted, Levin said, "We are ready to handle our negotiations along these lines (as presented by President Rivlin). We understand that if we enter a unity government with Kahol Lavan, Netanyahu will not be prime minister for the entirety of the term."