Arab Israeli leader defends Arafat street sign


A top Arab Israeli politician on Monday defended naming a street in northern Israel after the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to remove it.

The small Arab Israeli town of Jatt recently inaugurated Yasser Arafat Street in honour of the former Palestinian president, a hero to Palestinians and many Arab Israelis but loathed by many Israeli Jews.

On Sunday, the Jatt counial street signs", including the Arafat sign, and rcil decided to remove "all the controversial street signs", including the Arafat sign, and replace them with different names, according to a report on Channel 10 television.

The local municipality did not comment on Monday, but Israeli media reported signage had been removed after Netanyahu's threat.

Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List coalition in the Israeli parliament, said Arafat was a "symbol".

"He is a leader of the national liberation movement and he chose peace and negotiations and he won the Nobel Peace Prize," Odeh told journalists.

"It is completely your right to say 'I am completely against this man'," he added, but said streets in Jewish neighbourhoods had sometimes been named after far-right politicians and even assailants.

"I cannot accept this is OK but calling a street after Yasser Arafat is not OK."

Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained after Israel's creation in 1948, and account for about 17.5 percent of the country's eight million population.

Jatt has a population of some 11,000.

Speaking at the start of a Sunday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said "no street i n the state of Israel will be named after murderers of Israelis and Jews".

"We will make the arrangements, including new legislation if need be, so that this does not happen here."

Arafat rose to become the leader of the Palestinian movement after the creation of Israel, leading an armed struggle against it in which thousands died.

Decades later he disavowed violence and famously shook hands with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, although the peace the Oslo accords were supposed to bring never materialised.

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