Arab Party to Discuss Backing Gantz for PM, Bill Barring Netanyahu From Forming Gov't

Balad chairman Mtanes Shehadeh says alliance of Arab parties is committed to changing Arab public's political status in Israel ■ Lieberman posts conditions to join governing coalition

Jack Khoury
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Joint List lawmakers Mtanes Shehadeh (R) and Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, 2019.
Joint List lawmakers Mtanes Shehadeh (R) and Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman
Jack Khoury

The Joint List of Arab Israeli parties will meet Sunday to discuss the matter of recommending Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz to form Israel's next government, as well as whether to back a bill that would prevent a criminally indicted candidate from receiving such a mandate.

The Joint List is reluctant to back Gantz for the premiership after Kahol Lavan repeatedly and categorically ruled out any cooperation with the alliance in its election campaign.Nevertheless, if the Joint List does decide to recommend Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin, they will demand that he publicly present his stance on several political and civil issues that the alliance considers crucial before its lawmakers meet with the president  for consultations.   

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A senior Joint List official said that the party fears that supporting Gantz would pave the Kahol Lavan leader's path to a narrow-coalition government at first, which would later disband in favor of a unity government with Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and other parties after Netanyahu departs from the political scene. In such a case, the official says, the Joint List would lose its standing in the government.

"On Election Day we thought that endorsing a candidate for prime minister is irrelevant because Netanyahu's right-wing bloc would get 60 Knesset seats, but now the picture is much more complex. The ball is no longer in our court, it's in Kahol Lavan's court," the official said.   

Prominent Joint List activists said that Likud officials has already begun reaching out to them regarding the option that the alliance won’t recommend Gantz and oppose to passing a bill that would prevent the indicted Netanyahu from forming a government The activists added that Likud lawmaker David Bitan is looking into whether the cooperation is possible, but those contacts are not expected to come to fruition due to Netanyahu's dismissing remarks about the Joint List. However, the activists added, "nothing is final with Gantz."

Mtanes Shehadeh, head of the Balad faction of the Joint List, said Sunday that the slate wouldn't recommend tasking Gantz with forming Israel's next government.

Speaking in an interview with Army Radio, Shehadeh said that "The Joint List won't repeat the same mistake of recommending Gantz," adding that as far as he's concerned Kahol Lavan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party are the same.

Shehadeh said that the Joint List would convene later on Sunday to discuss the matter, adding that Balad will be attentive to the other three heads of the factions comprising the list, but isn't expected to change its stance on Gantz.

After the country's September election, 10 out of the slate's 13 lawmakers endorsed Gantz for prime minister

According to Shehadeh, Kahol Lavan hasn't yet officially requested a recommendation from the Joint List.

Shehadeh added, however, that "revoking the Kaminitz Law (that stiffened penalties for illegal building), crafting a peace plan, annulling discriminatory laws like the Nation-State Law, and passing legislation that would better the status of Israel's Arab population" are among the Joint List's requirements to recommend Gantz as Israel's next prime minister.       

He said that "Arab voters seek to alter their political standing in the country, and the Joint List's mission is to express the will of the Arab voters."

Responding to the speech Gantz delivered on Saturday, Joint List's Hadash lawmaker Aida Touma-Suleiman said that it's clear that the Kahol Lavan leader "doesn't understand that he won't get a recommendation from the Joint List without directly and publicly reaching out to the alliance."

Meanwhile, Senior Kahol Lavan member Moshe Ya’alon once again reiterated Monday that the party "won’t form any government with the Joint List,” but “won’t object” to their backing.

In an interview with Channel 12 News, Ya’alon said Kahol Lavan “prefers a unity government,” not ruling out a rotation for prime minister between Gantz and Netanyahu, provided Netanyahu will be second. “If (Netanyahu) can form a government, let him do it. He claims he won...there’s more (votes) against him than for him," he said.

Also, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman posted Sunday his list of requirements on Facebook to be part of the next coalition, which includes a 70 percent of the minimum wage for all elderly living on guaranteed income allowance and old age pension; transferring the authority to decide on running public transportation and the of opening businesses on Shabbat to local governments; enshrining into law the draft bill that was approved in first reading by the 20th Knesset; passing a civil marriage law, and allowing municipal rabbis to perform conversions.