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Mansour Abbas said to boycott coalition leaders’ meeting, as demands unaddressed

Lapid reportedly meets with Ra’am leader in bid to coax Islamist party to unfreeze ties with coalition, but fails to make breakthrough

The heads of the eight parties making up the prospective new government meet in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. Left to right: Ra'am head Mansour Abbas, Labor chief Merav Michaeli, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, New Hope head Gideon Sa'ar, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz. (Ariel Zandberg)
The heads of the eight parties making up the prospective new government meet in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. Left to right: Ra'am head Mansour Abbas, Labor chief Merav Michaeli, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, New Hope head Gideon Sa'ar, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz. (Ariel Zandberg)

Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas boycotted a meeting of coalition leaders that took place Thursday evening, Kan news reported, due to the party’s continued unhappiness with the government’s policies regarding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, among other issues.

The Islamist Ra’am party froze its involvement in the coalition earlier this month as pressure mounted on it over the ongoing tensions and violence between police and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

It has since issued various conditions for a return to parliamentary and government participation, including bread and butter Arab society issues such as money for economic development and advancing housing plans.

Kan said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Abbas on Wednesday, in what was described by a source as a “serious and constructive meeting.” However, the sides apparently did not manage to patch things up.

Ra’am’s decision to freeze its coalition membership has been largely declarative so far, because parliament is in recess, though opposition sources said that they saw it as a further opportunity to weaken the coalition.

The government is already in turmoil after MK Idit Silman, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, bolted the coalition, erasing its single-seat majority.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Separately, it was also reported on Thursday that the Ra’am chairman traveled to Jordan earlier this week to participate in an Iftar dinner hosted by King Abdullah II for several Arab Israeli community leaders, as well as Palestinian community leaders from East Jerusalem.

After the meal, according to the Walla news site, Abbas met with Abdullah, and the two discussed the recent tensions in Jerusalem where Jordan holds custodianship over holy sites.

Abbas updated Bennett ahead of the trip, but the premier did not provide the Ra’am leader with any sort of message to pass along to Abdullah. Abbas also updated Lapid on the meeting upon his return, Walla said.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Over the past few weeks, it has been the site of riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, during heightened tensions as Muslims mark Ramadan and Jews observed Passover.

Jordan, which controls the Waqf Islamic endowment that administers the compound, has been sharply and repeatedly critical in recent weeks of the behavior of Israeli security forces atop the Temple Mount.

Jordan has accused Israel of violating the status quo at the site, under which Muslims are allowed to visit and pray while Jews cannot pray and may only visit during restricted time slots.

Israel has said it is committed to maintaining the status quo, and that its security forces have responded to Palestinian riots, stirred up by Hamas and other extremist groups.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein speaks at a news conference after talks at the Chancellery, in Berlin, Germany, on March 15, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via AP, File)

While Abbas did not confirm whether he and Abdullah met face-to-face, the Ra’am chief said that during the dinner, the king said he wishes to achieve calm at the flashpoint site and prevent any escalation.

“King Abdullah is not only the King of Jordan but represents two billion Muslims when it comes to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and therefore should be looked at in this way and not just in the context of relations between Israel and Jordan. Israel should treat the king as an address in the Muslim world when it comes to holy sites in Jerusalem,” he told Walla.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in the Knesset (Courtesy)

Abbas noted that one of the main problems was that each side perceives the religious status quo on the Temple Mount “differently,” adding that both sides must meet and settle the issue.

“King Abdullah does not want escalation and he is looking for solutions that will allow maintaining calm, give the mosque the respect it deserves and maintain Jordanian sponsorship there. We need to see what can be done so that what happened this year does not happen again next year,” Abbas said.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray on Laylat al-Qadr, Night of Destiny, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on April 27, 2022. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Earlier this week, the Axios news site reported that Israeli and Jordanian officials are expected to soon meet to discuss efforts to prevent a violent flareup at the Temple Mount.

According to the report, which cited three unnamed Israeli and Western sources, a joint committee will convene after Ramadan — which ends next week — in a bid to reach an agreement on how to lower tensions at the holy site and prevent any violent incidents there.

According to the report, one of Amman’s main demands is expected to be for Israel to allow more unarmed guards at the Temple Mount on behalf of the Waqf.

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