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Israelis shocked as Arab party leader Ayman Odeh decides to leave office

Arab Israelis hope that Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh's surprising exit from politics will shake up the Arab political system and encourage young people to revive unification efforts.

Leader of the Arab Israeli party Hadash-Ta’al Ayman Odeh surprised many in Israel on Tuesday by announcing he was stepping down from politics and will not run in the next Knesset elections, in a move that could lead to the reconciliation of the three existing Arab parties.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Wednesday that for the first time since the split of the Joint List alliance in 2021, Odeh shook hands with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and invited him for a reconciliation meeting. 

Odeh announced his resignation in messages posted on social media Tuesday in both Hebrew and in Arabic.

"Part of the job of a person serving the public is to know when to step back to see the bigger picture. That is why I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life today: When this term is over, I will not run in the next Knesset elections. I will continue leading our [Hadash-Ta’al] list until the end of the current term,’’ Odeh tweeted in Hebrew.

In a video posted on Facebook, Odeh said in Arabic, "I will try, together with you all, to build the largest unity possible, on the basis of the political program that had brought us 15 Knesset seats, with our true and collective sense of power. "

Odeh did not explain why he decided to quit, but Channel 12, which broke the story a few hours before Odeh's Twitter post, claimed the leader of Hadash-Ta’al had become disillusioned with Israeli politics and felt that the Arab leadership in Israel needed a change to become relevant again. Odeh has reported been conducting consultations on the future of Arab Israeli politics for several months without directly discussing the possibility of his resignation.

Odeh, a lawyer, has been politically active his entire life. In 2015, he was elected to head the Joint List, which united four Arab Israeli parties: Hadash (Odeh’s original party), Ta’al, Balad and Ra’am. Under Odeh’s leadership, the Joint List grew in power until 2020, when it scored 15 Knesset seats. But in the next elections in 2021, Ra’am split from the Joint List. In the 2022 elections, the list split again into the Hadash-Ta’al alliance and the Balad party. A poll published by Maariv earlier this week showed six Knesset seats for Hadash-Ta’al, four for Ra’am and zero for Balad. 

Associates of Odeh told Channel 12 that his goal now is to enable the three Arab parties to reunite, bringing new blood into Arab politics and making it once again a force able to influence the national Israeli agenda. Odeh, they said, had come to realize that because of infighting, the unification of Arab politics will not happen with himself and other veteran political leaders at the helm and needs the next generation to see it through.

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