JERUSALEM – After 27 years of sitting out decisions on who should lead Israel, Arab lawmakers on Sunday recommended that Benny Gantz, the centrist former army chief, be given the first chance to form a government over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , a watershedassertion of political power.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, wrote ina New York Times Op-Edpublished on Sunday that the alliance’s 13 incoming lawmakers – the third-largest faction in the newly elected Parliament – had decided to recommend Mr. Gantz because it would “create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr.
“It should be the end of his political career,” Mr. Netanyahu.
The Arab lawmakers’ recommendation, which Mr. Odeh wrote. Odeh and other members of the Joint List delivered to President Reuven Rivlin in a face-to-face meeting Sunday evening, reflected Arab citizens’impatience to integrate more fully into Israeli societyand to have their concerns be given greater weight by Israeli lawmakers.
“There is no doubt a historic aspect to what we are doing now,” Odeh said in the meeting with the president, which was broadcast live.
Mr. Netanyahu and Likud responded furiously to the Joint List’s recommendation, continuing his anti-Arab campaign as if the election was yet to take place.
“There are now two options,” Netanyahusaid in a video clipsoon after the meeting between members of the Joint List and the president. “Either there will be a minority government that relies on those who reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists who murder our soldiers and civilians, or there will be a broad national government.”
“I know what the answer is and so do you,” he continued, “which is why I will work as hard as I can to form a broad national unity government. ”
There was no immediate word from Mr. Gantz or his Blue and White party.
The Joint List’s recommendation was a striking act of comeuppance for Mr . Netanyahu, who for years had rallied his right-wing supporters by inflaming anti-Arab sentiments. Before the Sept. 17 election, he accused Arab politicians of trying to steal the election and at one pointaccused them of wanting to “destroy us all.”
Israeli Arabs “have chosen to reject Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade,” Mr. Odeh wrote in the Op-Ed for The Times.
Odeh wrote that the Joint List would not enter a government led by Mr. Gantz because he had not agreed to embrace its entire “equality agenda” – fighting violent crime in Arab cities, changing housing and planning laws to treat Arab and Jewish neighborhoods the same, improving Arabs’ access to hospitals, increasing pensions, preventing violence against women , incorporating Arab villages that lack water and electricity, resuming peace talks with the Palestinians and repealing the law passed last year that declared Israel the nation-state only of the Jewish people.
The last time Arab lawmakers recommended a prime minister was in 1992, when two Arab parties with a total of five seats in Parliament recommended Yitzhak Rabin, though they did not join his government.
“We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored, ”
In the 1992 election, Mr. Rabin initially held a narrow majority in the 120 – seat Knesset even without the Arab parties’ support, though he came to rely on it a year later after Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party, quit the government when Mr. Rabin signed the Oslo peace accords.
Odeh wrote that the decision to support Mr. Odeh Gantz was meant as “a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Palestinian citizens.”
Mr. Gantz narrowly edged the prime minister in the national election last Tuesday. Afterward, both candidatescalled for unity, but differed on how to achieve it.
The former army chief appears to lack a 61 – seat majority even with the Joint List’s support. He emerged from the election with 57 seats, including those of allies on the left and the Joint List, compared with 55 seats for Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies.
Avigdor Liberman, leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won eight seats, is in the position to be a kingmaker, but said on Sunday that he would not recommend any candidate. He said that Mr. Odeh and the Joint List were not merely political opponents, but “the enemies” and belonged in the “Parliament in Ramallah,” not in the Knesset.
Mr. Rivlin began hearing the recommendations of each major party Sunday evening and was to finish on Monday, before entrusting the task of forming a government to whichever candidate he believes has the best chance of being successful.
In remarks at the start of that process, Mr. Rivlin said the Israeli public wanted a unity government including both Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party and Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud.
On paper, the Joint List’s recommendation increases the chances that Mr. Rivlin will give Mr. Gantz the first crack at forming a government.
But analysts said the postelection imbroglio was far from resolved.
In deciding who is better placed to form a viable and stable coalition, Rivlin may take more than the basic numbers of recommendations into consideration, according to experts. He could, for example, take into account the Joint List’s refusal to join a Gantz-led government in weighing Mr. Gantz’s prospects.