Arab parties: Keep Lieberman out

Decline to endorse Olmert or Peretz as prime minister.

Avigdor Lieberman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The three Arab factions in the 17th Knesset met Sunday with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They asked that he not make a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman's "racist" party Israel Beiteinu. Olmert, they said, replied that whether or not he forms a coalition with Lieberman, he rejected the idea of the transfer of Israeli Arabs. "Bad answer," MK Ahmed Tibi told The Jerusalem Post. "Yesterday, when we met with Amir Peretz, he told us he would not form a coalition with Lieberman." Olmert also said that he wanted to keep an "open channel" to deal with Israeli Arab issues and that they should also keep an open channel. United Arab List-Ta'al leader Ibrahim Sarsour asked Olmert, if he becomes prime minister, to negotiate with Hamas because he was sure "it would change." Hadash leader Muhammad Barakei also urged Olmert to hold negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and called on him to "maintain a strong stance" against anti-Arab declarations, including a call for population exchange and transfer. "This is not only an Israeli Arab interest against racism, it's a democratic interest," he said. "It's a problem that 800,000 people voted in favor of [ridding the country of its Arab citizens]." In separate meetings with President Moshe Katsav, the three factions presented similar grievances and aspirations. None of them endorsed Olmert or Peretz. They complained about anti-Arab incitement by right-wing parties during the election campaign, asked for equal educational and employment opportunities for Arabs and urged renewed peace talks with the PA. The first of the three parties was Hadash, which won three mandates, the third of which went to Dov Hanin, a Jewish law lecturer. Katsav embraced Barakei and kissed him on both cheeks. Welcoming Hanin, he said that he was pleased to see that at long last a Jew had made the list. There had been a Jewish candidate three years ago who failed to win a Knesset seat. Barakei said that it was always a pleasure to meet with the president who had unstintingly demonstrated a positive attitude towards the Arab community. It was very important said Barakei for a moral call to emanate from Beit Hanassi with the declaration that Arab citizens are equal in every respect and are interested in having a partnership with the Jewish community based on mutual respect. Katsav said that he was utterly opposed to any attempt to deprive Arabs of their rights. The rights and obligations of all citizens should be unconditional, regardless of their ethnic origins, he said, and reiterated this to the other two delegations. At the close of the meeting, Barakei told reporters that Hadash could not go along with Olmert's political and social policies, and did not believe in the viability of an emergency government based on social justice as proposed by Peretz. Hadash asked Katsav to meet with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "We think it is vital for Katsav to meet with Abu Mazen as soon as possible," said Barakei, explaining that Israel only sees Hamas as part of the problem and refuses to recognize that Hamas is part of the solution. In greeting Balad, led by Azmi Bishara, Katsav expressed concern at the Arab poverty statistics. Bishara told him that construction in the Negev was moving toward an explosive situation. The MKs asked Katsav to compensate flood victims, intervene in the problems that Arabs have in building, end the Wisconsin Program, which harmed the poor, and that psychometric tests be abolished because Arab students could not pass them. The UAL-Ta'al delegation then spoke with the president. "Arabs want to be an integral part of the country," Sarsour told Katsav. Tibi said that the UAL would be a powerful force in Israeli politics, specifically working toward peace, coexistence and equal rights for Arab citizens. They were highly critical that there had been no voice of protest from Beit Hanassi or the Prime Minister's Office during the election campaign when Israel Beiteinu was advocating population swaps that would have driven Israeli Arabs from their land. Later Sarsour told reporters that they had also discussed disengagement and engagement and that the UAL was interested more in engagement so that the gaps between the Arab and Jewish communities could be closed.