The Arab citizens of Israel do not have the power to bring about democracy, equality and peace, but without them, Israel cannot achieve these goals, Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List in the Knesset told members of the Foreign Press Association on Monday.Odeh was confident that the Joint Arab List, with 13 Knesset seats, will gain in strength in the next election. He attributed this to what he termed the “incitement” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the previous election, when he called on the Jewish public to vote because “droves of Arabs” were converging on the polling booths.The statement was untrue, Odeh said, as a smaller percentage of Arabs citizens voted at the time than in the 1990s.
However, he is certain that, as a reaction to what Netanyahu said, many more will participate in the next elections.To prompt this, Odeh has been going from one Arab village to another, encouraging residents to become politically aware and involved. He anticipates that within another month or two, he will have visited every Arab village in Israel, including those not recognized by the authorities.Odeh charged that part of Netanyahu’s strategy is to incite against Arab citizens and to portray them “not as citizens but as enemies of the state.”According to Odeh, Netanyahu also paints Arab citizens as part of the problem in the conflict with the Palestinians, “but we are part of the solution.”He believes most Israelis still believe in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he doubts that there is a leader on the Left who is strong enough to bring this about – and most certainly would be unable to do so without the support of the Joint Arab List.As far as he can tell, none of the candidates running for leadership “has the moral backbone” that is required.As far his own party is concerned, Odeh admitted that he does not agree with everything different people and factions within the party do. “There are issues on which we take the decision not to obey the law, as for instance army service. We don’t go to the army because of the occupation.”On the other hand he strongly disapproves of the actions of MK Basel Ghattas, who smuggled cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners, and he is unhappy about some of the things that have been said and done by MKs Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka.Yet for all that, he is opposed to the party or any of its members being expelled from the Knesset. He regards expulsion as being undemocratic, but as a lawyer by profession, said that he would respect any ruling of the court. Nonetheless, he pointed out, the Joint Arab List was elected not by the Knesset or the court, but by the people, “and they should decide whether or not we should stay in the Knesset.”While he supports the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination, Odeh said he also supports the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.After so many casualties on both sides, he thinks it is time for both sides to accept responsibility and put an end to the conflict. Unless this happens, he fears that the Palestinians would lose hope, “and hope is very important.”The damage caused when people feel that they are not part of the state, and not recognized, cannot be underestimated, said Odeh
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