Netanyahu meets Joint Arab List head, pledges steps to tackle inequality


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday with Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, which became the third largest Knesset faction in March’s general election.

Netanyahu was criticised by Odeh and many Israeli figures for appearing to urge Likud voters on election day to counter an expected high turnout of Arab citizens at the ballot box. Odeh, a first-time Knesset member, led his party to 13 seats, making it the third largest parliamentary party.   Netanyahu subsequently apologised at a meeting with Arab community leaders and requested to meet Odeh. Talks between the two leaders took place yesterday at the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to Odeh, they discussed high unemployment rates among young Arabs, the need to increase funding for Arab municipalities and the paucity of housing opportunities in the community. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Netanyahu proposed the establishment of a formal, structured dialogue between government ministers and Arab MKs, which would result in the creation of a government-wide plan for socio-economic development in the Arab sector. Odeh said that he was “sceptical, to say the least,” over Netanyahu’s proposal, “simply because I can’t be sure until I see it in reality.” He added that, “The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere, but I can’t speak about concrete results.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin yesterday underscored the importance of Jewish-Arab coexistence. On a visit to a Jerusalem school, he said, “We live in one country not because we were condemned to live together but because we were chosen to live together. We are a Jewish and democratic country where 20 percent are Arab citizens and we must learn to live together.” He added that, “We live in a gallery of cultures as citizens of the same nation that requires all of us to listen to one another.”