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Bibi's Gone? Time to Thank the Joint List, and Work for True Jewish-Arab Partnership

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Joint List Knesset members in parliament, following the vote on Israel's next president, two weeks ago.
Joint List Knesset members in parliament, following the vote on Israel's next president, two weeks ago.Credit: Emil Salman
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

First of all, please remind me to send a basket of baklava to Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich and a kilo of knafeh to MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. Without their pure racism, we would be mired in a Benjamin Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir-Mansour Abbas government. These two right-wing Knesset members helped pave the way to the government of change.

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It’s good that the Netanyahu era is ending; good that the architect of incitement, hatred, divisiveness and fascism enablement is leaving. Jews and Arabs alike have reason to celebrate. An unbearable period is over. Now we can be free to battle the injustices of the new era.

We just note first that it was sad to watch the opening scene of the new government, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was armed to the teeth with a nationalist narrative covering at least 2000 years and appropriating the entire land for the chosen people.

Facing him was the Arab partner in the government, MK Mansour Abbas, devoid of any nationalist symbol. “We in the United Arab List decided to go with a civic agenda,” he said, as if discrimination against the Arabs doesn’t stem from their national identity but from some hole in the ozone layer. We have a government comprised of the masters of the land and its subjects.

For which, in part, we should thank certain members of the Joint List for threatening to abstain in the vote forming the government, which “persuaded” colleagues wavering in Netanyahu’s direction not to play any tricks. At the moment of truth, it turns out that the Joint List is a responsible slate that helped save Arabs and Jews from the jaws of Netanyahu’s rule. The magic word for the Joint List’s behavior is “responsibility,” even when Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar (the newly minted justice minister) with their arrogant nationalism, refused to rely on the Joint List’s votes to remove Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.

The key to removing Netanyahu appeared more than a year ago, when the Joint List offered the 15 signatures of all its MKs on a silver platter to Benny Gantz, when as head of the Kahol Lavan party, he was trying to form a coalition. Joint List leader Ayman Odeh presented a winning recipe for life based on civic and national egalitarianism; a partnership that would hold up over time because it was formed between free people proud of their national origins, culture and heritage.

But the “win-win” equality proposed by Odeh was rudely swept aside by the right. Today we see what kind of partnership they want: a partnership between the top floor and the basement. It turns out that parts of the left are also enthused about such a partnership. Deep down, they prefer Arabs to be devoid of nationality and history.

As usual, pragmatists will say that the overriding concern is money, but even if we sidestep the saying that “man does not live by bread alone,” we must note that the Joint List, even while in opposition, got NIS 15 billion allocated in 2015 ($3.86 billion at the 2015 exchange rate). This was achieved through persevering civic struggle supported by the Arab local councils and civic society organizations, and thanks to state institutions, which understood the enormous potential of Arab society to spur the development of the entire Israeli economy.

Even though the formulation and implementation of Cabinet Resolution 922, which brought unprecedented funds into Arab society, had numerous people and organizations as partners, it had a number of problems en route to being realized. That being the case, how will all the promised funds be handled now, without representative bodies and civil society organizations, but instead managed solely by Abbas? No one knows how and where the money will be invested, if it gets released at all.

What’s more, the architects of the Kohelet Forum, the ones behind the Nation-State Law (determining which citizens the government authorities are obligated to protect and to whom it grants rights), are already circulating in the corridors of power.

Let us conclude by saying that it is now, at the start of a new era that will involve numerous struggles, from ending the occupation to achieving national-civic equality in Israel – it is now that a Jewish-Arab forum must be established, one based on a partnership between free people. Partnerships not based on this will evaporate with their first exposure to sunlight.

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