Rare Moment in Israeli Politics as Gantz Meets Arab Party Leaders for Coalition Talks

Earlier Thursday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman went after the Joint List, calling the alliance a 'fifth column' in a radio interview

Gantz with Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh and party whip Ahmad Tibi, October 31, 2019.
Ofek Avshalom

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz met on Thursday with the leaders of the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-majority parties, as part of his effort to form a governing coalition after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to do so.

As the meeting concluded, Gantz, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh and faction whip Ahmad Tibi said in a joint statement it was cordial and that issues important to Israel’s Arab society were discussed, focusing on addressing civil issues, which Gantz clarified do not require any preconditions to handle.

Odeh added that "We've discussed burning issues in the Arab society, in addition to the joint interests of all of Israel's citizens. We are staying loyal to the values of peace and equality, and as always, we welcome Likud's hysteria."   

Earlier Thursday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman went after the Joint List, calling the alliance a "fifth column" in a radio interview.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Lieberman, whose party's eight seats could be decisive in the formation of a government following the September election, said: "It's clear that the Joint List is a fifth column, not in quotation marks but quite literally."

The Yisrael Beiteinu leader discounted the option of the formation of a minority government that would be supported from outside the coalition by the Joint List. In such a scenario, the Joint List would vote in favor of government legislation but not join the governing coalition.

In September the Joint List decided to endorse Gantz for Israel's next prime minister, drawing condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said they decided to back Gantz because "we want to put an end to the Netanyahu era."

Nevertheless, while the Israeli Arab party announced it endorses Gantz, the move was stunted by the decision of Balad – one of the four parties that make up the alliance – not to recommend Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin as the suitable candidate to form a government.

At the time, Balad Chairman Mtanes Shehadeh wrote in Haaretz that "We in Balad want true equality in every walk of life. We want a democratic system of government, and we want to have an influence. In this, Balad is no different from the other components of the Joint List."

Gantz's Kahol Lavan, Shehadeh wrote, "can be considered part of the traditional right. Its views on the occupation aren’t far from Netanyahu’s, even if they’re less extreme than the settlement project Netanyahu tries to advance. The same is true for its views on Israel’s character and identity and on economic policy."