Lapid meets with Abbas for coalition talks

Abbas has become somewhat of an unlikely kingmaker since his party cleared the threshold to gain four Knesset seats, which could allow him to recommend either Netanyahu or his challenger, Lapid.

Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas casts his vote at a voting station in Maghar, during the Knesset Elections, on March 23, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas casts his vote at a voting station in Maghar, during the Knesset Elections, on March 23, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Yesh Atid and opposition leader Yair Lapid met with United Arab List (Ra’am) head Mansour Abbas on Sunday to negotiate terms for a possibly historic entry into a Lapid-led government, or at least for a possible recommendation to form the next government, Israeli media reported.
At the end of the meeting, the two said the talks would resume in the coming days.
Haaretz reported on Sunday that sources close to Lapid said that "the meeting with Abbas was excellent."
The source told Haaretz that Mansour and Lapid's meeting was positive, and that Lapid showed an understanding of various issues which concern Arab society in Israel. 
Among other issues, the source noted the recognition of villages in the Negev, the freezing of the Nationa-State Law, a plan to combat violence and the allocation of tens of billions for the expansion of localities in. 
In addition, according to the source, Lapid agreed that in matters of religion and state, Ra'am will always have the right to vote their conscience and will not be forced to vote with the coalition automatically.
A source in the Joint List told Haaretz on Wednesday that Lapid has asked them twice to arrange a meeting, but that the party preferred that he first meet with representatives from Ra'am. "In the campaign people attacked us, saying that we are in Lapid's pocket. So here, the first one we met was Abbas," the source said.
Lapid is expected to meet with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz later on Sunday in order to discuss a strategy for replacing Netanyahu and forming a new government.
And as the "pro-change block" that opposes Netanyahu continues to prepare to recommend its candidate for forming Israel's next government, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced Sunday that he will be recommending Lapid as the next prime minister.
Earlier on Sunday, Abbas said in an interview with Nasradio that he has been keeping contact with "everyone" since even before the election.
Abbas has become somewhat of an unlikely kingmaker since his party cleared the threshold to gain four Knesset seats last week, which could allow him to recommend either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his challenger, Lapid, whose party received the second largest amount of Knesset seats in the election.
Last week's election results found that the pro-Netanyahu bloc receive only 59 mandates, while the anti-Netanyahu bloc received 57, with neither reaching the 61-seat majority necessary to form a government.
In an interview with Kan News on Wednesday, Abbas said that his party is “not in the hands of anyone.”
“We are not committed to a specific bloc or a candidate,” Abbas said. “We’ve said it multiple times – we’re not in the hands of anyone, neither Left nor Right.”
When asked who will he sit with, or not sit with, he said that he’s “not ruling out anyone. I’m ruling out whoever rules me out.”
Abbas was referring to an initiative by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who said last week that he will not sit in a coalition with Lapid, and at the same time, asked Netanyahu to say that he will not form a government that is based on the support of Ra’am.

Netanyahu agreed not to add Ra'am to the coalition, though he did not say he wouldn't pursue Abbas' recommendation to form a government.
Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich has since also ruled out sitting with Abbas, further complicating Netanyahu's potential chances of forming a government.
Abbas says that his goal is to get a promise that the next government to be formed will not ignore the needs of the Arab society in Israel.
“We have urgent issues of life and death,” he told Kan. “Things like crime and violence, and major housing and economic crises… There’s a long list of chronic problems in Arab society that the state and government neglected for many years.”

Lapid met with Yisreal Beyteinu head Avigdor Liberman on Friday for negotiations, announcing that they would resume talks in the coming days.
So far, he has also spoken with Labor leader Merav Michaeli and is expected to meet with New Hope leader Gideon Sa'ar soon.

Gil Hoffman, Udi Shaham and Tobias Siegal contributed to this article.