Palestine Pulse

Arab lawmaker says joining coalition would legitimize Israeli occupation

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Article Summary
The leading elected Palestinian leader in Israel tells Al-Monitor that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vicious racism led Arab voters to the polls, the Arab coalition still cannot join a ruling coalition.

Ahmad Tibi, the head of the Arab Movement for Change, a leading Arab party in Israel, told Al-Monitor that despite supporting Benny Gantz to set up the next coalition government, the Joint List will not be part of the next government in Israel because that would legitimize the occupation.

“The Joint list can’t be part of a governing coalition because that would make us responsible for the decisions taken by the government,” he said.

However, Tibi provided a long list of demands that the predominantly Arab list will make if asked to support a possible Gantz minority government from the outside. The list includes requests for major economic development support to Arab communities in Israel to the tune of 64 billion shekels ($18 billion), the end of house demolitions in Israel, tackling crime in Arab communities, cancellation of the racist nationality law and heading the important finance and interior committees in the Knesset as well as serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The final count of the Sept. 17 elections show that the Joint List received the third highest number of mandates with 13 out of 120 Knesset seats. Tibi noted that the incitement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party activists backfired, saying, “The incitement against Arabs and the attempts to delegitimize Arabs had an opposite effect.”

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Tibi was critical of the world's leniency toward Israel, which passes racist laws and practices discrimination and apartheid. The full text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, said during the election campaign that under the right circumstances you can see the Joint List joining a governing coalition. Do you still expect that possibility and what would be your demands to participate in the coalition?

Tibi:  The Joint List can’t be part of a governing coalition because that would make us responsible for the decisions taken by the government, including the decisions against the Palestinian people such as the aggression on Gaza or the building of settlements or the racist legislation against Arab citizens.

Al-Monitor:  Since some members of the Joint List are opposed to joining a governing coalition, would you be willing to support a minority government?

Tibi:  As I mentioned, we will not join an Israeli government that is occupying the Palestinian people. But as far as supporting [the government] from the outside as an opposing bloc, we have set conditions for this, and these conditions concern the Arab communities we represent. They include the need for a government plan against violence within Arab villages, the cancellation of the racist nationality law, the cancellation of the Kaminitz law [which allows house demolitions], regulating housing and municipal planning for Arab towns, funding local budgets, creating industrial zones, building a hospital, a university and a detailed request about civilian [Arab] rights. In addition to that, they need to return to negations with the Palestinian leadership aimed at reaching a Palestinian state.

Al-Monitor:  Could a decision to join the government break up the Joint List?

Tibi:  We are holding onto the Joint List and this is the consensus of the four parties, though each of our parties is unique and has its own plans.

Al-Monitor:  Do you think Israeli generals who were part of the imposition of the occupation can change and become peacemakers like Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert?

Tibi:  It is important to explain that the Blue and White Party is not a leftist party. We know that it is made up of military people and Gantz’ position is negative. But what Netanyahu has done during the past 10 years and the height of his racism against Arabs and the legislation of racist anti-Arab laws intended to delegitimize Arabs, the original citizens. That is why we had to do whatever we could politically to end the rule of Netanyahu. This is where we play a role: by influencing, pressuring and making demands. That is why we made the recommendation to the president [about supporting Gantz].

Al-Monitor:  What are the top priorities for the Arab Joint List when you meet with Benny Gantz?

Tibi:  Our demands include a socio-economic development plan of 64 billion shekels, a serious and comprehensive peace process that leads to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, an equality law and a law to reinstate Arabic as an official language, canceling the house demolitions law, the family reunification law as well as the law giving employment priority to army officers rescinded, guaranteeing the employment of Arabs in 20% of the public jobs within three years, fighting crime in Arab towns, building a new Arab city with a hospital, long-term city planning, recognition of unrecognized villages and the enforcement of the high court decision to allow the residents of Iqrit and Birim to return, a special fund of 15 million shekels [$4.27 million] to support [Arab] students, industrial cities, encouraging work for women, solving the unemployment problem of 10,000 Arab teachers, creating a separate autonomous department of Arab education, developing the medical sector in Arab towns, a separate budget for disabled persons, better and more secure roads in Arab areas, dealing with inflation, addressing the needs of Arabs in mixed towns, protecting the Muslim and Christian waqf, heading the financial and interior committees in the Knesset and allowing access to historic documents in the national archive.

Al-Monitor:  More than 90% of all Arabs in Israel voted for the Joint List. Do you feel that the list is now here for good and we will not see another division as in the April elections?

Tibi:  All components of the list, including us in the Arab Movement for Change, are committed to staying united under a single list.

Al-Monitor:  What was the key factor between April and September that brought about the change in voter turnout? Was the Joint List the only change or did you have to do more to convince people to vote?

Tibi:  The incitement against Arabs and the attempts to delegitimize Arabs had an opposite effect, highlighting the people's will and attachment to their land, nation and presence, because this is our land. Our practical approach allowed us to present our plan to the Arab voters.

Al-Monitor:  Israeli Likud officials had been accused of voter suppression. Do you think these moves to suppress votes had an opposite effect?

Tibi:  Yes, the fact that the Likud was trying to have a Knesset without any Arabs motivated people to vote. We have proven that we will not allow this.

Al-Monitor:  What message do you have for the US Congress, the White House and to the American people?

Tibi:  Free countries that talk about equality and democracy, freedom and enlightenment should take a close look at what Israel is doing to its Arab citizens and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu’s words against Arabs, if they were said by any leader in the world about a religious or national minority, would have caused havoc. If a law similar to the nationality law were passed in any country of the world, international human rights organizations would have screamed. Our fate is to fight racism, injustice and attempts to exclude us all alone. The time has come for the world to put a stop to these practices by the Israeli state that talks about democracy, but in fact is a democracy only for Jews. Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens and practices apartheid rule toward Palestinians.

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Found in: israeli elections, israeli politics, benny gantz, ayman odeh, ahmad tibi, joint list, arab parties

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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