Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Government ministers and Arab MKs should work on a socioeconomic plan to help the Israeli-Arab population, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed in his first meeting with Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh on Thursday.
The two met in the Prime Minister’s Office and mostly discussed the socioeconomic situation of the Israeli-Arab population. Netanyahu pointed out that his governments have invested significant funds toward aiding Israeli Arabs over the past six years, but there is still a need to work toward reducing social gaps in Israel.
To further that goal, Netanyahu proposed holding a regular dialogue between a group of relevant ministers and Arab MKs in order to draft a socioeconomic plan with the broadest consensus possible.
An Arab political source told The Jerusalem Post
that Netanyahu rejected the idea of a meeting with all four Arab leaders of the Joint List, only agreeing to invite Odeh. The other three Joint List leaders are the United Arab List’s Masud Gnaim, Balad head Jamal Zahalka, and Ta’al’s Ahmad Tibi.
“The Joint List decided it did not want a photo-op meeting between Netanyahu and Ayman alone, which [Netanyahu] would be able to take advantage of for public relations,” said the source. Instead, it was meant to be “a working meeting with all four leaders, but Netanyahu rejected this.”
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Joint List released a photo of the meeting as of press time.
Following the meeting, Odeh released a statement saying he told the prime minister the remarks Netanyahu made on Election Day
warning that Arab voters were going en masse to the polls was incitement against a minority.
“I am coming out of a meeting with the prime minister that was not easy,” Odeh said. “I came here with a great responsibility as the person who represents the largest minority in the country, a minority that the prime minister chose as a shameful election tactic to incite against. It cannot be that a prime minister speaks out against citizens who vote.”
The Joint List leader said the working meeting took place at a time when the Arab public is facing distress – including the lack of housing, threat of home demolitions and lack of quality employment.
Hours before the meeting, MK Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) called on Netanyahu to cancel it
. The Yisrael Beytenu leader called Odeh the head of “a list of terror-supporters in the Knesset.”
“The prime minister’s meeting with Odeh, one of the vehement opponents of Israel as the state of the Jewish People, legitimizes the forces that work to destroy Israel from the inside and condones the fifth column in the Knesset,” he said.
Liberman pointed out that on Election Day, Netanyahu warned of “Arabs flocking to the polls,” and the prime minister was right to do so, because anti-Israel elements were involved. He said the Palestinian Authority backed Odeh, and the Joint List chairman is no different from former MK Azmi Bishara – who fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
“Don’t be mistaken about Odeh,” said Liberman.
“He acts cleverly, with a smiling face that hides the same desire that Bishara had to bring an end to the State of Israel. Odeh refused to distance himself from the Joint List’s communications chief who compared Zionism to ISIS and refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization; rather, he backed and legitimized [Hamas’s] activities. He also would not criticize [Joint List MK] Haneen Zoabi who legitimized the murder of the three teens in Gush Etzion [last summer].”