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Mainstream parties are missing historic chance to bridge gaps

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh’s announcement that he is prepared to join a center-left coalition is an historic turning point in Jewish-Arab relations in the State of Israel.

Odeh said on Thursday that it is time that Arab-Israelis take part in the leadership of the country, in order to prevent a situation in which Arabs are treated as “second-class citizens.”

Odeh conditioned the move with basic amendments to the system: building a new – and first since 1948 – Arab city in Israel; freezing illegal home demolitions in Arab cities and rethinking the policies regarding Arab housing; building a hospital in an Arab city; and cracking down on crime and illegal weapons in the Arabs towns and villages.

Odeh also said that annulling the Nation-State Law, which downgraded the Arab language, is a condition for joining a coalition.
Some of those terms would seem natural and acceptable to the vast majority of Israelis – who would openly say that they are against equal investments in all sectors in Israeli society? Who would say that they are opposed to confiscating tens of thousands of illegal weapons?

But it seems that the major political parties have got it all wrong.

Likud, as expected, used Odeh’s statement to slam Blue and White.

But Blue and White itself – the party to whom Odeh’s remarks were referring – seems to have missed this historic opportunity.

Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz posted a video on Twitter, supposedly reminding Israelis that the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have collaborated with Arab parties on several issues in the past. The video concluded with the saying: “Netanyahu was also a friend of [former PA chairman Yasser] Arafat. Netanyahu – look for another spin.”

Another senior member of the party, Gabi Ashkenazi, said in an interview on Army Radio that Blue and White will not sit in a government with the Joint List because it does not recognize the Jewish state.

But what are those remarks by Odeh if not recognition of the Jewish state?

There are major gaps between the general society and the Israeli Arabs. For decades, Arab representatives ruled out the option of joining any Israeli government – Left or Right.

These representatives were blamed for misrepresenting almost 20% of Israeli society who want to live in peace and prosperity, and for putting the Palestinian cause as their main agenda.

Odeh’s remarks are drawing a whole new equation.

If parties such as Blue and White, which pretend to present an alternative to the decade-long rule of the Likud, are not willing to consider joining hands with Odeh, how are they any different than Likud?

And therein lies the problem.

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