Arab Israeli leader makes Trump plan election target

Leading Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh has made US President Donald Trump and his controversial peace plan the main target of his campaign for Tuesday's general election. — AFP

HAIFA, Israel — Leading Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh has made US President Donald Trump and his controversial peace plan the main target of his campaign for Tuesday's general election.

"We have an opportunity to defeat the Trump plan in these elections," said Ayman Odeh, head of the mainly Arab Joint List, the third largest in Israel's outgoing parliament.

Odeh, 45 is heading a mishmash coalition of parties — including Islamists and Arab nationalists as well as his own bi-communal communist party — into his fourth Israeli election.

He is hoping record turnout among Arab Israelis and increased support from left-wing Jews could see the list win more seats than ever, enabling them to oust right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's main challenger, centrist Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, is trying to focus voter attention on the prime minister's upcoming corruption trial.

But Odeh is playing the Trump card.

Netanyahu was standing on the White House podium on Jan. 28 as Trump unveiled his widely criticized peace plan.

The Israeli premier was visibly thrilled by the plan, which endorsed Israel's major priorities at the expense of the Palestinians who gave no input to the Trump initiative and rejected it immediately.

Arab Israelis, descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the 1948 creation of Israel, found one proposal particularly alarming.

Page 13 of the 181-page plan backed the transfer of Israel's so-called "Arab triangle" region into a future Palestinian state.

If implemented, that could see some Arab Israelis having their citizenship changed against their will.

"The core problem with this plan is the prime minister is talking about how he will get rid of part of his citizens," Odeh told AFP in a cafe in Haifa, his home city in northern Israel.

"I am a son of Haifa, I grew up with the Jews, we cannot establish a border between us and our Jewish neighbors," he said.

The Netanyahu-endorsed Trump plan "deals with the Arabs as unwanted citizens of a country they want exclusively for Jews".

Netanyahu subsequently said he was opposed to population transfers.

Odeh tweets and gives speeches and statements in Hebrew, in which he is fluent, and is also prone to quoting Ibn Khaldoun, the great Arab historian and chronicler of the 14th century.

During this election campaign, Israel's third in a year, Odeh has portrayed the Trump plan as the "most dangerous" issue since 1967, when Israel seized east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War.

Netanyahu's camp has often used the fear of "dangerous" Odeh and his ally Ahmed Tibi to stir up its right-wing Jewish base.

He has repeatedly claimed that Gantz cannot form a government unless he agrees to a coalition with the Joint List.

The premier's Likud party election posters promise a government "without Ahmed Tibi".

"We want the fall of Netanyahu because he is the greatest inciter against Arab citizens and the godfather of the 'Deal of the Century'," Odeh said, using a common nickname for the Trump plan.

In September's election, the Joint List won 13 of parliament's 120 seats, making it the third largest bloc behind the Likud and Blue and White.

Odeh said the Joint List does not back Gantz, who has also publicly supported the Trump plan.

He said the main objective remains stopping Netanyahu and his "extreme right and pro-settlement allies" from reaching the 61-seat majority required to form a government. — AFP