On November 20, 2016, Ayman 'Odeh, chair of the Joint List, an alliance of Arab-dominated parties in the Israeli Knesset, participated in a conference held by the Palestinian Masarat Center for Research and Public Policies. The conference, held simultaneously in Al-Bireh and Gaza under the heading "Reality and Horizons in the Struggle of the 1948 Palestinians [i.e., Israeli Arabs]," was attended by dozens of politicians, academics and social activists. 'Odeh, who attended the conference in Al-Bireh, addressed the political path of the Israeli Arabs and said that, when a conflict arises between their Palestinian and Arab identity and Israeli citizenship, their Palestinian and Arab identity takes precedence, and that is why they avoid taking jobs at various government ministries.
He added that Israeli Arabs have a duty to support the Palestinian struggle and have a national interest in seeing an end to the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the return of the refugees.
In a speech he delivered in Ramallah on November 10, in a ceremony marking the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, 'Odeh explained that the Israeli Arabs are Palestinians in the full sense of the term; he repeated this message in his November 30 speech at the opening ceremony of Fatah's Seventh General Conference in Ramallah.
The following are excerpts from these three speeches.
'Odeh At Masarat Conference: Our National Identity Is More Stable Than The State Of Israel And The Jewish People; We are Duty-Bound To Support The Palestinian Struggle
In his speech at the Masarat conference, 'Odeh said that the Israeli Arabs "are Palestinian Arabs, and are a living and active part of the Arab nation. Our national identity is more stable than the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and it is not in danger, despite the efforts of the Israeli establishment to design a distorted Israeli Arab [identity]..."
Addressing the relationship between the Israeli Arabs' Palestinian identity and their Israeli citizenship, 'Odeh said: "When a conflict [between the two] arises, the [Palestinian] identity takes precedence. That is why the [Israeli] Palestinians do not work at the defense ministry, foreign ministry, ministry of immigrant absorption, ministry of justice, etc. [They do this] to preserve their national identity, and this despite the temptation to work at these ministries, which provide a third of the positions [in the Israeli public sector]. We prioritize the national interests over our personal interests. We not just want to stay in the homeland, but to influence the political decision-making in order to take part in ending the occupation...
"Ending the occupation requires opposing the occupier. We are duty-bound to support the Palestinian struggle and influence public opinion in the occupying country, so that it upholds the rights of the occupied [Palestinian] people that aspires to liberty and independence... [The Israeli Arabs'] interest in seeing an end to the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state, the return of the refugees, and equality for the Palestinians inside Israel does not stem from moral considerations but from national ones..."
'Odeh called "to form a joint cultural framework [for Israeli and non-Israeli Palestinians] to strengthen national identity, with the PLO's consent." Noting that the PLO cannot represent the Palestinians inside Israel, and that the latter cannot be members of the PLO or its National Council, he added that "there is need for functional separation that will take into consideration the unique [position] of the Palestinians inside [Israel]," and that "the implementation of this idea requires discussion and study."
According to the Masarat report on Odeh's participation on the conference, he said further that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "is acting to turn the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict into a religious one, so as to manage the conflict rather than resolve it, and also in order to score points in his dialogue with the West – since the religious narrative is simpler than the political one, which involves a people under occupation." The report also quoted him as saying that "there are three laws that the Palestinians inside [Israel] do not obey: the military service law, the house demolition law, and the Nakba law, and if the Muezzin law is passed, we will absolutely not obey it [either]."
'Odeh (right) at the conference with Hani Al-Masri, director-general of the Masarat Center (image: Masarat.ps, November 20, 2016)
'Odeh At Yasser Arafat Memorial: Establishment Of Palestinian State Is A Historic Necessity
In a November 10, 2016 memorial for Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, 'Odeh said: "We Palestinian Arabs who stayed in our homeland despite the Nakba and the policy of deportation are unique in that we are citizens of Israel. The Israeli government wants to create an 'Israeli Arab' identity. This 'Israeli Arab' is Arab in that he speaks his language [Arabic], is familiar with the Mu'allaqat [pre-Islamic masterpieces of Arabic poetry], knows the difference between the [early Islamic poets] Al-Farazdaq and Jarir, and is familiar with [tenth century Muslim leader] Sayf Al-Dawla's rebuke of [the poet] Mutanabbi – but he must not know a thing about his Palestinian history or feel solidarity with the struggle of his [Palestinian] people. He is a warped Arab, and not a Palestinian. At the same time he is also a defective Israeli, because in the Jewish state only a Jew can be a complete Israeli. That is their paradigm. Conversely, our paradigm is that we are Palestinian Arabs in the full sense of the word, who at the same time fight for full citizenship [in Israel]...
"We have our own place and uniqueness, which we wish to leverage in order to help our people. Our uniqueness lies in the fact that we wield influence in the Israeli political battlefield, and nobody recognizes [our] quantitative and qualitative power better than Netanyahu. That is why he is working to delegitimize us, in order to keep us from wielding influence. As I give this speech, they follow every word [I say] in order to incite [against us Israeli Arabs], and so that Netanyahu can paint us as enemies and as lacking legitimacy to act in the Israeli political arena...
"We are here to champion [PA] President Abu Mazen's adherence to the two-state solution, which stems from a correct understanding of reality and from a moral stance that is willing to reconcile [with Israel] for the sake of a just solution. We are here to say that the existence of the state of Palestine is a historic necessity..."
'Odeh said further: "I make a point of refraining from interfering in any Palestinian matter related to the PA or the PLO, but there is a matter of national [importance] that is a source of concern and pain for us, that is, the lack of unity [among the various Palestinian factions] in dealing with the main conflict, namely the conflict with the despicable occupation. [All the factions] – Fatah, Hamas, the [Popular and Democratic] Fronts, and the Al-Sha'b Party – are under occupation; the West Bank and Gaza are [both] under occupation; the entire Palestinian people is under occupation... We beseech our people to end this destructive division and invest efforts in formulating a vision and strategies that are shared [by all], to the greatest possible extent, while setting their sights solely on Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state."
'Odeh At Fatah's Seventh General Conference: The Next Fatah Conference Will Be Held In East Jerusalem, Capital Of Independent Palestine
'Odeh made similar remarks at the opening ceremony of Fatah's Seventh General Conference on November 30, 2016 in Ramallah. He addressed Fatah as "Fatah of the great sacrifices" and "Fatah of the martyrs and prisoners," and, speaking on behalf of his party, called on the Palestinian factions to put aside their differences in order to concentrate on the main struggle, against the occupation. He explained that the Israeli Arabs have a role in helping the occupied Palestinians and in swaying public opinion in Israel, and ended his speech with a quote from Arafat and with a call for the next Fatah conference to be held in Jerusalem: "As the great [Arafat] said, 'people think that [the Palestinian state] is far, but we see that it is near.' Fatah's next conference will be held in East Jerusalem, capital of the Palestinian state, and we shall be there with you." 'Odeh's speech was received with applause and cries of the slogan, coined by Arafat, "thousands of martyrs are marching on Jerusalem."
To watch a MEMRI TV clip of 'Odeh's statements at Fatah's Seventh Conference, click below.
 Masarat.ps, November 20, 2016.