Netanyahu's savior: Meet the Arab Islamist who can sway the election

Sources close to the prime minister said he would be open to parliamentary cooperation with Abbas but asked Likud MKs to stop talking about it.

Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Ra'am Party leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The final tally of the election will not be announced until Friday, but preliminary results indicating that Ra’am (United Arab List) leader Mansour Abbas will be the kingmaker for the next coalition have seen both political camps begin efforts to woo him.
According to the preliminary results of 97% of regular votes counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc won 59 seats, two short of a blocking majority, unless Abbas would help him form a government. But there were indications late Wednesday that the numbers would change.
Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats, Yesh Atid 17, Shas nine, Blue and White eight, United Torah Judaism, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor seven, New Hope and the Religious Zionist Party six, and Meretz five. After initial indications that Ra’am had not crossed the 3.25% electoral threshold, current results give it five seats and the Joint List six.
Preliminary results of the rest of the regular polling stations were delayed by technical problems. Late Wednesday, the Central Elections Committee began counting some 430,000 double envelopes, which are ballots from hospitals, nursing homes, emissaries, soldiers, prisoners and special polling stations for returnees at Ben-Gurion International Airport and for the sick and quarantined from COVID-19.
Sources close to Netanyahu said Likud would be open to parliamentary cooperation with Abbas but Netanyahu’s associates asked Likud MKs to stop talking about the matter. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is set to meet with Abbas later this week.
Abbas kept his cards close to his chest on Wednesday and would not say whether he will support a coalition led by Netanyahu, or join the “change bloc,” which seeks to unseat the prime minister. He said in several interviews on Wednesday that he is keeping all options open, and will negotiate with major parties of the entire political spectrum.
SPEAKING WITH KAN 11 News, 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 in recent days 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.
Abbas then said that his goal is to 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 said. “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.”
In an interview with N12, Abbas was asked whether he would sit in a cabinet with right-wing extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, and repeated his position that Ra’am will not rule out whoever does not rule out it.
Sources in Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu said the parties already began efforts to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. The plan includes capturing the Knesset speaker post, key Knesset committees and promoting a bill that would prevent the prime minister from running if another round of election is initiated.
Asked if he will join the initiative, Abbas kept his vague position, saying: “I don’t feel obligated to address every hypothetical initiative. When the offer comes, we will revise, and act according to our interest.”
“If there will be a request by a big party, Ra’am will conduct the negotiation in a dignified manner,” he said. “Our point of interest is a party with the potential to be a ruling party, and its candidate to be a prime minister – not with a satellite party,” he said.
RA’AM REPRESENTS the southern stream of the Islamic Movement in Israel. He has run as part of the Joint List, and previously in a list with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al Party.
Ra’am separated from the Joint List due to disagreements regarding several issues, including the party’s ability to cooperate with other parties and join a coalition, and bills dealing with LGBT rights.
Netanyahu’s partnership with Abbas began making news late last year, after a warm interaction was caught between Netanyahu and Abbas at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Violence in the Arab Sector, which the Arab MK heads. The two cooperated closely in the past in an attempt to form a coalition of 60 MKs with Abbas’s support from outside following the April 2019 election.
“Over the past year and a half, there were proposals to abstain on governments formed and in return receive achievements for Arab society,” he told The Jerusalem Post in November. “Arab society suffers from plagues of crime, violence and unemployment. This got worse with corona. There is a housing crisis, with no building for young Arab couples and families. More than 100,000 live in unrecognized villages without streets, electricity and water. We want the government to initiate a plan for economic development.”
In return for helping those relatively uncontroversial requests, Abbas, unlike other Arab MKs, is willing to compromise with the Likud, even if it means considering aiding the passage of bills that could enable Netanyahu to evade prosecution.
“Those who come toward us merit mulling going toward them on their interests,” he said then. “I will not be taken for granted. I want to serve the people who elected me.”
In the vote to dissolve the Knesset last December, Ra’am joined the Likud position and opposed going to an early election.
MK Walid Taha told The Jerusalem Post during the campaign that the party did so not because it is getting closer to Netanyahu and the Likud, but because they believed that “going to an early election round will not benefit our voters.”
Taha then said that Ra’am’s new approach is meant to provide Arab society with more options and give them the ability to have influence and make a difference.
“We want to reach a point of ‘give and take,’ in which we could change policies,” he said. “So far, no Arab MK has managed to change policies. How do you change policies? When you become a kingmaker, and the person forming a coalition needs you: He has no choice.
“You then tell him what your conditions are – conditions that will change the policies,” Taha said. “By that, we want to change the Kamenitz Law, bring recognition to the Bedouin villages in the Negev, and make the education and health budget equal to those the Jews get.”
The Kamenitz Law was passed in 2017 to stem the construction of thousands of illegal structures in the Arab sector.