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Netanyahu, the Joint List and a history of demonising Palestinian voters

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Shivers down the spine

Odeh, head of the Joint List, has taken note. Rather than opting out of internal Israeli politics as his predecessors have done, he has indicated a readiness to change approach by recommending Gantz.

But further, if there is a unity government between Blue and White and Likud, as many Israeli Jewish politicians favour, the Joint List would gain a different sort of power by becoming the largest opposition party by default.

Odeh has said he would willingly become the official leader of the opposition, the first Palestinian citizen to hold the position. That would entitle him to security briefings by the prime minister and the army command, give him access to visiting heads of state, and a parliamentary platform to speak immediately after the prime minister.

The very idea sends a shiver down the spine of many Israeli Jews.

There have already been discussions about how to ensure such an eventuality does not take place. As commentator Gideon Levy observed facetiously last week: "If Odeh cannot head the opposition, then wouldn't it be better to bar Arabs from serving in the Knesset altogether? If they will always be suspected of treason, then they don't belong in the legislature."

More demonisation?

It looks as if Odeh and the Joint List could inadvertently gain crucial political influence whatever the outcome of coalition negotiations. Either the Joint List helps Gantz oust Netanyahu and the settlers, or it becomes the opposition to a unity government of the broad Jewish right.

Either of these developments risks inflaming Israeli Jewish sentiment against the Palestinian minority. The active involvement of Palestinian citizens in shaping Israeli democracy threatens to expose the contradictions at the very heart of a "Jewish and democratic" state.

Netanyahu has introduced new levels of incitement against the Palestinian minority in Israel. But paradoxically it may be his departure from Israeli politics that heralds a period of even greater demonisation of the country's Palestinian citizens.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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