Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List (Ra’am), made a speech on Thursday evening that many pundits claim will drastically impact the formation of the next Israeli government. Usually, Arab candidates are not granted the spotlight but Abbas’s speech, given at a press conference in Nazareth, was broadcast on all of the Israeli networks.
Speech: “Prayer of Hope”
He opened his speech on an optimistic note unusual for an Arab MK, saying, “I carry a prayer of hope, and the search for coexistence based on mutual respect and genuine equality,” he said. “What we have in common is greater than what divides us.”
“I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society, courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples,” he said.
“I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and of two peoples.”
Decrying “ignorance” and “racism”, Abbas declared that he was open to sitting with any coalition.
“Unlike all the politicians who dealt with boycotts of left and right, I didn’t rule out anybody,” he said. “My approach is what can we say yes to, and less what we can say no to.”
“And if I don’t live in peace within the state, I won’t be able to seek peace with my neighbors,” he said.
“I don’t want to be part of any [political] bloc — right or left. I am here in a different bloc — the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, which for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”
Watershed Moment or Deception?
His speech was hailed as a watershed moment in Israeli politics. Left-wing governments are usually formed with Arab parties but right-wing parties and alliances based on strong nationalist and Jewish ideals are incompatible with such an alliance. In fact, despite Arabs making up about a fifth of Israel’s population, no Israeli Arab-led party has been part of a coalition in the country’s 73-year history. Netanyahu, who is perhaps wrongly perceived as strongly right-wing, has never formed an alliance with the Arab parties. In his election campaign, Netanyahu ruled out the idea of Ra’am joining a government, calling the party anti-Zionist, but did not rule out “parliamentary cooperation.” With the fourth round of elections culminating in an apparent impasse, leaving Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition at 59 seats, Ra’am’s four seats may be Netanyahu’s only option, whether it is through “parliamentary cooperation” or as an actual member of a coalition led by Netanyahu.
In principle, Ra’am’s platform should be unacceptable to any but the most radical left-wing coalitions. Despite Abbas’s speech, the party’s platform calls for evacuating Israel’s West Bank settlements, establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem, and giving Palestinian refugees the right to return to Israel.
Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich was unconvinced by Abbas’s speech, tweeting, that he would refuse to be a part of “any government that relies on terror supporters.”
“Abbas was and remains a supporter of terrorism who makes pilgrimages to embrace those who murdered Jews, does not accept the Jews’ right to exist as a people in their country in the Jewish state, and continues to adhere to the Palestinian narrative that simply contradicts the Jewish one,” Smotrich wrote.
“This is how he and his party have behaved for years, and I don’t buy this new image he is trying to construct for himself in one minute that is only due to fleeting political interests due to his difficult rivalry with the Joint Arab List. Even in his sweet speech yesterday, Abbas did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, demanded the recognition of ‘both narratives,’ and is in fact trying with the familiar Arab system of stages to make Israel a binational state.”
“Abbas’ desire to now connect to Netanyahu is temporary and stems from his difficult rivalry with the Joint Arab List. In the future, the Arabs, who will become legitimate partners thanks to the Right, will almost certainly connect to the Left …. Connecting the Arabs to the Jewish Left will bring about a left-wing government for decades. Such a leftist-Arab regime would cause irreversible damage to the Jewish state and could, God forbid, make it a state of all its citizens and even all its nations.”
He concluded that “a government based on Abbas may maintain Netanyahu’s rule but it will most certainly not be a right-wing government.”
It should be remembered that Abbas is not just the head of a Knesset party, he is also the founder of the Islamic Movement. Though Abbas is associated with the southern branch, the northern branch actively opposes the existence of Israel and was outlawed by Israel in 2015 based on accusations of extensive financial and organizational ties to Hamas. Abbas has disavowed violence and his Southern Branch is relatively moderate.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in Arabic studies at Bar Ilan University, was unpersuaded by the speech.
“Abbas’s speech was amazing and exceptional for those who are clueless about the Islamic Movement,” Dr. Kedar said. “The people who are rejoicing are having a party over something the Islamic party is using to deceive those who know nothing about Islam.”
“Mansour Abbas heads a movement that sees no legitimacy for the existence of Israel or even the democracy they are using against itself. They adjust their behavior to the situation. Fundamentally, this movement should not be in the Knesset at all. They are Islamists that follow the tenets of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are in politics in order to destroy the Knesset from within.”
Dr. Kedar noted that the ongoing political crisis in Israel offered a powerful opportunity for small parties, like Ra’am, to maximize their influence.
“The Arabs know how to find the moment that will enable them to push forward their agenda. Abbas knew how to take advantage of the dire situation of Netanyahu.”
After his Hebrew-language address, Abbas made an address in Arabic which is currently unavailable in the media.