Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 5, 2017.
ABIR SULTAN / EPA POOL / AFP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday not to allow a street in an Arab Israeli town to be named after late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, promising new legislation if needed.
The small Arab Israeli town of Jatt recently inaugurated Yasser Arafat Street in honour of the former Palestinian president, seen as a hero among Palestinians and many Arab Israelis.
Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained after Israel’s creation in 1948 and account for about 17.5 percent of the country’s eight million population.
Jatt, located in northern Israel, has a population of some 11,000. Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “no street in the state of Israel will be named after murderers of Israelis and Jews.
“We cannot allow streets in the state of Israel to be named after Yasser Arafat and Haj Amin al-Husseini and others. “We will make the arrangements, including new legislation if need be, so that this does not happen here.”
Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist, was grand mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s, held strong anti-Jewish views and met with Hitler. Jatt mayor Mohammed Taher Wattab defended naming the street for Arafat in comments to Israeli army radio.
“Yasser Arafat signed a peace deal with Israel and it is a shame that the prime minister finds the need to waste his time on the name of a street in a small town like ours,” he said. “We will act according to the law, according to the legal advice that we receive.”
Arafat rose to become the leader of the Palestinian movement after the creation of Israel, leading an armed struggle against it in which thousands died.
Decades later he disavowed violence and famously shook hands with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, though the peace the Oslo accords were supposed to bring never materialised.
Later on Sunday, the Jatt council decided to remove “all the controversial street signs”, including the Arafat sign, and replace them with different names, according to a report on Channel 10 television.