Opinion

Arab Israeli Leader Should Take Things Step by Step

Aymen Odeh at the Joint List campaign launch, August 20, 2019.
David Bachar

The leader of the Arab parties’ Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, has stated that he would consider recommending Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz as the next prime minister and might even join a center-left government under certain conditions – including ending the occupation, repealing the nation-state law and revoking demolition orders and bans on Arab construction. This shows that the Arab political leadership is undergoing an important process of sobering up. But this process still intersects with reality only to a limited degree.

To end the occupation, it’s first necessary to replace the government. But if the Joint List demands a priori that Kahol Lavan announce policies that would make it very hard, perhaps even impossible, to replace the right-wing government with a saner, more moderate one, what will these wise men have achieved through their demands?

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It’s clear that Odeh, unlike most of the Arab community’s other leaders, understands the internal logical flaw that has permanently sabotaged the Arab parties’ ability to meet their voters’ needs appropriately. Their refusal, as a matter of principle, to support any Zionist government sentences them to permanent exile in the opposition.

As a result, they are removed from any ability to exert influence, not only over major moves, but also over countless small, day-to-day solutions to the banal problems that exist in reality. This painful recognition has sometimes led these parties down a cynical and self-contradictory path.

Even though this behavior bolsters the Likud party’s government of occupation, it sometimes seems that only by prostituting themselves in humiliating deals with the government can the Arab MKs bring any gains, which are usually hidden, to the Arab community or Arab party activists. This may be why the Joint List supported the law to dissolve the Knesset immediately after April’s election, and it also apparently explains why some Arab MKs secretly voted in favor of Likud’s candidate for state comptroller.

Odeh’s change in approach shows that he understands that such cynical behavior mortally wounds the Arab community’s own supreme goal. It underscores the absurdity in which leaders of the Arab parties trap themselves when they reject Zionist opposition parties that aspire to change the government and have a chance of doing so, only to discover that they have ended up bolstering Benjamin Netanyahu’s occupation regime.

It’s clear to anyone with a brain that Arab voter turnout reflects despair over the pointlessness of political action as it’s conducted by the Arab parties today. There’s no point in voting if we don’t allow ourselves to have an impact.

But just like quite a few left-wing voters – who are sick to death of sitting eternally in the opposition but still haven’t agreed to vote for more realistic parties that might be capable of effecting significant change, like Kahol Lavan – Odeh, too, still seems unwilling to recognize that there’s no way to change the treatment of the Arab community if they demand this change in advance, before laying the political groundwork that would make it possible. And in fact, it’s possible that through this very behavior, they are undermining the chance of implementing the longed-for change later on.

For various reasons, the principles that guide the left currently don’t enjoy support among the Israeli public. Thus if Kahol Lavan were to accept Odeh’s demands in advance (and most of Odeh’s party colleagues don’t even agree with him), it might thereby, with its own hands, sabotage its chances of replacing this government and the corrupt, discriminatory norms that have spread throughout it.

If we want to advance the process of change in this country in general, and change in the treatment of the Arab minority in particular, it’s impossible to put the cart before the horse. We must first make even a faint shadow of hope for change possible. Only then will it be possible to start consolidating a reality of pan-Israeli civic brotherhood.