Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh could begin receiving monthly security briefings from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if the Zionist Union joins the coalition.
Negotiations between current opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and Prime Minister Netanyahu for the former’s party to join the coalition have been ongoing in recent weeks, despite significant resistance among Zionist Union MKs.
Should Zionist Union join the coalition, the Joint List, which is made up of Arab parties, would be the largest opposition party, meaning Odeh would become opposition leader, and the first Arab to ever hold the position.
By law, the prime minister must update the opposition leader on “matters of state” at least once a month. Traditionally, these meetings include classified security briefings, though the law does not specify what “matters of state” would mean.
Odeh was skeptical about the monthly meeting’s impact, speaking on Sunday.
“I meet with the prime minister already. I meet him almost once a month, anyway, to try to promote things. It’s not a matter of access, it’s about what will happen for the good of the citizens, and I see an opaque prime minister. He is an ultranationalist, there is no doubt of that... He very simply harms the weaker sector and Arabs, and even if I will be opposition leader, I don’t think I’ll be able to get significant things for those populations through Netanyahu,” he stated.
Likud MK Oren Hazan bemoaned the prospect of Odeh – whom he called the head of the “Palestinian List” – becoming opposition leader.
“It’s incomprehensible... it stresses me out,” he lamented. “An Arab sweet-talker who represents a different nation, not the Jewish nation, will be one of the symbols of the government and hold a sensitive role. He’ll sit with the prime minister once a month to receive updates on the situation.
“How can you run a country with [Odeh] as head of the opposition? He represents almost the worst of our enemies,” Hazan argued.
When reminded that the law does not specify what the prime minister has to tell the opposition leader, Hazan said that, should Netanyahu decide not to brief Odeh on classified security information, the press will accuse the prime minister of racism.
As for the opposition leader’s meetings with foreign leaders, according to diplomatic protocol, Hazan expressed concern that Odeh will “use his dignified platform to slander the state and undermine its legitimacy.
“It’s a paradox,” Hazan said. “It will cause endless problems.”
Should he become opposition leader, Odeh looks forward to meeting with visiting heads of state.
The most significant part of being opposition leader, Odeh said, would be the opportunity to provide a more prominence for his faction’s views and receive a “huge important platform to speak out against Netanyahu,” since part of the job is giving a speech in response to any address by the prime minister in the Knesset.
“We can pass important messages, real, oppositional ones, unlike the Zionist Union,” he stated. “We will be a true, civil, democratic alternative to Netanyahu’s policies.”
At the same time, Odeh hoped he wouldn’t become opposition leader.
“I think Labor shouldn’t join this government,” he said. “This government is harmful to all that is good, including the option of establishing a Palestinian state and peace between our nations. It hurts the weaker populations, democracy and the Arab population.
“Labor joining this government is only good for Netanyahu and harmful to those seeking a real option to replace him. It’s dangerous for the Zionist Union to join [the coalition],” Odeh argued.
Even if Herzog joins the coalition, Odeh may have to wage a battle for the position of opposition leader, since, if a majority of opposition MKs vote to give someone else the job, Odeh would lose it.
With the opposition’s current makeup, Odeh’s position seems secure.
Meretz would be likely to support him – an assessment Odeh himself and others in the Knesset made, though the party would not answer questions about the hypothetical scenario – and the other two opposition parties, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, add up to one less seat than Meretz and the Joint List.
A source in the Knesset said Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu made an agreement to crown Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposition leader.
They may be relying on MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) to join them, the source said. Livni made it clear to Herzog last week that if he joins the coalition, she plans to split her Hatnua party from the Zionist Union, which is made up of Labor and Hatnua.
With Hatnua’s MKs, Lapid would get the support of 22 lawmakers to be opposition leader, to the Joint List and Meretz’s 18.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman’s spokesman denied the existence of an agreement, but added: “Of course, we will do all we can so Odeh will not be opposition leader.”
Odeh expressed skepticism about Liberman’s chances of success.
“All Liberman can do is support Lapid, and they will have fewer [Knesset seats] than us [the Joint List and Meretz],” he pointed out.
Implying that racism is in play, Odeh said: “The norm since the first Knesset until now is that the opposition leader is the head of the largest [opposition] party. When there’s an Arab, it seems like the rules have changed.”