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Why 1 Arab Party Joined Israel's Coalition Government But The Other Did Not


Israel's new government includes an Arab political party, which joined the governing coalition. And that is a first for Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are 20% of the country's population. Not all Palestinians are pleased. Noel King spoke with a Palestinian member of the Knesset whose party did not join the new government.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: Aida Touma-Suleiman is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament. Thank you so much for being with us.

AIDA TOUMA-SULEIMAN: Thank you for having me.

KING: Why did your party, the Hadash party, decide not to join this coalition of parties in forming a new government?

TOUMA-SULEIMAN: Well, we insisted from the beginning that we wanted to change, not only Netanyahu, the person, but Netanyahu, the politics and the way. We understood from the beginning that this government will be controlled mainly by the right wings that want to preserve the occupation of the Palestinian territories, enlarge the settlements and continue oppressing and discriminating against our Palestinian population, citizens of Israel. This is not the partners that we will ever have.

KING: This government will include, as you stated, right-wing Israeli parties. It will also include centrist parties, and it will include Arabs and Jews. Why would the politics be the same if the coalition of parties now includes perspectives from across the spectrum?

TOUMA-SULEIMAN: Well, they published the broad guidelines of this new government. One of the major issues that were there is enhancing building - new buildings in Jerusalem and power to Jerusalem. And when the Israeli government say that, they mean what they call the united Jerusalem, which includes the occupied East Jerusalem. We are not willing to do such a compromise of legitimizing the Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem. And we will never do such a political mistake. There are many issues connected to this government that we cannot accept. If you look at the Arab party that joined that coalition, the only thing that they got is a few budgets that were declared by the government. So it's bargaining our national and civil rights with some budgets that we might get and we might not get.

KING: Let's talk about what you're referring to as the budget. Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, says as a result of joining this coalition, he and his party secured a $16 billion deal to improve infrastructure and to fight crime in Palestinian-majority towns in Israel. Now, he would, of course, present that as a win. It's quite a bit of money. These are areas that could use improvements, as you know. You are inclined to not look at it as a win. But are you willing to concede that that money will be helpful?

TOUMA-SULEIMAN: Of course, if this money truly reach the population, it will be helpful. We never say we don't want those budgets. Those budgets are supposed to be elementary right for any citizen who pays his taxes. These are not issues that you bargain your national rights and your group rights and your civil rights for getting that budget. In any normal country - in any democracy, these are the obligations of the state toward its citizens. This is not a good deal.

KING: Aida Touma-Suleiman is a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset.

Thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.


(SOUNDBITE OF SKALPEL'S "BLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.