Sputnik: Israel's four biggest Arab-majority parties have united under the Joint List in the upcoming elections. What's behind this decision?
Dr Yousef Jabareen: The decision to re-unite into one list was actually a result of public demand in our community. We are witnessing a dangerous political period under the Netanyahu government, that enacted the nation-state law and other discriminatory laws. We are also witnessing the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the proposal to annex occupied Palestinian areas to Israel.
These developments are very dangerous, and we thought that the best way for our community to counter this is through being united and building one front against these dangerous developments. Once we are together, we have the potential to increase our political representation, and this would mean, also to weaken Netanyahu and the right-wing. Indeed, we expect through this unity to gain more seats.
And if we have more seats, we'll be able to represent the concerns of our community better, to deal with the discriminatory policies of the government. But also to achieve the goal of putting an end to Netanyahu׳s dangerous regime, now in government for over a dozen years.
Sputnik: What do you expect the Arab voter turnout to be? Is the atmosphere different than that which preceded the April election?
Dr Yousef Jabareen: Now, that we are united again in one list, I do feel that the atmosphere is different, it's more positive, more supportive. We hope this would positively influence the turnout in our community on election day. In April this year, the turnout was extremely low, a bit below 50%. We hope this time we will be able to get over 65 or even 70%, which would mean we'll be able to increase our political representation in the Knesset and be the third-largest faction.
This increase in our seats would give us more power; we hope to be able to do that and to basically take the time in the coming few weeks to focus extensively on Arab towns and villages, and convince more and more people in our community to go out and vote on election day. We can do it.
Sputnik: Israeli right-wingers are uniting in an influential bloc, while the centre and the left are also forming tactical alliances. Given this, how much representation, do you think, the Joint list will get in the Knesset?
Dr Yousef Jabareen: We hope that with the reunion of the Joint list we will be able to gain the three seats that we lost during the April election and an add additional one or two seats.
When it comes to the issue of being in the coalition, we have a clear and firm platform advocating for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in 1967 borders including East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and we advocate for ethnic and civil equality for the Arab community within Israel. This is our platform, but unfortunately, I don't see that Kahol Lavan party is accepting this platform.
So, it seems that we will be in the opposition and we will be a strong opposition against any government that will continue the occupation of our Palestinian people, and against any government that maintains the discriminatory policies towards Arab citizens. If there is any readiness from Kahol Lavan or left parties to negotiate and accept our platform, the option might be for supporting this left government from the outside. But this is on the condition that there will be acceptance of our political platform.
As I've said, unfortunately so far Kahol Lavan is not presenting a real alternative to Netanyahu, and they are not speaking clearly about recognising the right of Palestinians to self-determination and the right of all citizens in Israel to equality. Peace and equality are our vision, and we will continue to advocate for this vision in the opposition, in the next term of this Knesset.
Sputnik: Arab-Israeli parties have never been part of an Israeli government. The leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh wrote in a New York Times op-ed in March that it's time for Israel’s left to include Arab-Israeli parties in a coalition. How high are the chances of getting into the government now?
Dr Yousef Jabareen: Our political platform in the Joint list is very clear and firm: we call for the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state in 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital of the Palestinian state. This is also an international consensus. We also call for full equality for all citizens as well, and for full equality for the Arab-Palestinian community on the individual and national level.
Unfortunately, we don't see that Kahol Lavan is even close to this platform. Without adapting the basics of this platform, I don't see how we could be in any government. Kahol Lavan with its leader Gantz has even declared their willingness to annex some of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, something that we see as a war crime and a dangerous violation of international law.
So, according to our reading of the current political map, it seems that we will be in the opposition and we will be strong opposition against the continuation of the occupation and continuation of discrimination of our community. We will struggle from the opposition to advance and to promote our platform. Arab-Palestinian parties have never been part of the Israeli government because successive Israeli government have adopted discriminatory policies towards the Arab community and expansion of the Israeli occupation.
The only exception was the 1992-96 Rabin government. It was a historical moment in which we were kind of a “preventive block” that prevented the fall of the Rabin government and thus avoided a right-wing government. We were not in the coalition then, but we did support the government from outside to ensure that the peace process with the Palestinian leadership would go ahead and succeed. This support was also because of promises that we would get to advance equality.
That was a written agreement of “outside support”, it was a historical moment in which the government in Israel was ready for peace with Palestinians, recognising their rights for independence and the right of equality for Arabs in Israel. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening during this election. There is a huge disappointment with the leaders of the opposition in Kahol Lavan - they are not presenting a real alternative to Netanyahu. In many cases, they are duplicating the Netanyahu and Likud positions.
So, it seems that we will be in the opposition and we will be strong opposition against any government that will continue the occupation of our Palestinian people and against any government that will continue the discriminatory policies towards the Arab citizens. If there is any readiness from Kahol Lavan or left parties to negotiate and accept our platform, the option might come for maybe supporting this left government from the outside. But this is on the condition that there will be acceptance of our political platform.
As I've said, unfortunately so far Kahol Lavan is not presenting a real alternative to Netanyahu and they are not speaking clearly about recognising the right of Palestinians for self-determination and the right of all citizens in Israel for cull equality. Peace and equality are is our vision and we will continue to advocate for this vision in the opposition in the next term of this Knesset.
The real alternative comes through advocating peace based on recognising the right of Palestinians for a state alongside Israel and full equality for all citizens. Until there is a coalition in Israel that will support our platform, we will continue to advocate this platform through opposition.
Sputnik: The leader of the Blue and White Alliance Benny Gantz has recently appealed to Arab voters, calling them "equal and influential in every way", adding that he would work to help Israeli Arabs - rhetoric which differs from that of Likud. How important is this appeal to Israeli Arabs? How do you assess this step by Gantz?
Dr Yousef Jabareen: I could see the differences in this rhetoric of Gantz as opposed to the ongoing dangerous incitements of Netanyahu. However, Gantz is far from adopting a clear vision of equality for Arab citizens, 20% of the population in Israel, and far from recognising their national identity and their collective rights in Israel as an ethnic and indigenous minority.
I'm afraid that some of this relatively positive rhetoric comes towards election day with the goal of getting some support from Arab voters. Gantz has been bragging about killing Palestinians in Gaza; he has been asking for a more powerful reaction from the Israeli government against Palestinian leaders in Gaza and Hamas. He has also been talking about annexing Israeli settlements. So although I see the difference in the rhetoric, I don't see that he is presenting a real and substantive alternative to Netanyahu's policy.
We are on the Joint List are the genuine representatives of the Arab community and pro-peace and human rights supporters. Unfortunately, leaders of Kahol Lavan keep speaking of establishing a national unity government with the Likud and speaking of “government with no Arabs” in obviously racist statements. They might be less racist than Netanyahu, but they are not adopting the human rights vision that we advocate.
This is the message that we are sending these days to our community and to democratic Jewish forces: The achievement of real equality will be through supporting us in the Joint List. We represent the genuine concerns and genuine plight of our community. We have done this historically over 70 decades, and we will continue to do that in the next Knesset term. Yes, we can, and we shall overcome someday.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Dr Yousef Jabaree and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.