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Amid coalition talks, Mansour Abbas said weighing speech on commitment to Israel

Reports say Ra’am chief would also reject Hamas in bid to ease path to potential cooperation with the right; is said to prefer Netanyahu-led government

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas is considering making a political speech in which he will stress his commitment to Israel, in order to ease the path toward his acceptance by right-wing parties, according to a number of reports over the weekend.

Abbas’s support, likely from outside a government, is seen as crucial to the formation of any potential coalition following the March 23 election. But right-wing parties have been loath to cooperate with the Islamist, non-Zionist party. Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich, has ruled out the possibility entirely. Some right-wingers accuse Abbas of being a supporter of the Hamas terror group.

According to reports on Channel 13 and Kan, Abbas is weighing a speech in which he would reject terrorism and assure the general public of his dedication to the country. According to Kan, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud that was pressing for such a speech, in order to create pressure on Smotrich into agreeing to cooperate with Abbas.

Abbas already made a landmark primetime speech on April 1, in which he called for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel “based on mutual respect and genuine equality.”

According to Channel 13, in closed conversations, Abbas has said he prefers a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, which he thinks would be more capable of helping his constituency than one composed of parties from across the political spectrum.

FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Leumit Health Care Services vaccination facility in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool via AP, File)

Netanyahu was this week tasked with forming a government by President Reuven Rivlin. He currently has the support of 52 lawmakers, and is in discussions with Yamina’s Naftali Bennett. Bennett’s support would get him to 59, leaving him dependent on Abbas with Ra’am’s four seats to get a majority in the 120-sear Knesset.

If he fails, the next likeliest option appears to be a power-sharing government between the right, the left and the center, with Bennett as prime minister in a rotation agreement with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. Such a coalition, composed of parties from Meretz on the left to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope on the right, would need either Abbas’s backing or that of the Joint List party to get to a majority.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Religious Zionism’s Smotrich expressed optimism that Netanyahu’s right-wing rivals will drop their opposition to joining a government headed by the incumbent prime minister.

“A government that relies on terror supporters and terrorists is not a ‘right-wing government’ but a wanton government contaminated by blood,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter, referring to Ra’am.

MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

He said such a government would lead “to the fall of the right and the rise of the left,” declaring he was “proud” to oppose it and would do everything to prevent its formation.

“Since the elections I’ve worked tirelessly to form a real right-wing government led by Netanyahu,” Smotrich said. “If God forbid no such government is formed, the blame will be solely on the shoulders of the right-wingers who did not succeed in understanding the gravity of the hour, forgoing [their] ambitions, rivalries and personal boycotts, to sit together in the best and most natural government for Israel.”

His remarks appeared aimed at the New Hope party, which campaigned on replacing Netanyahu. The party, led by former Likud minister Sa’ar, has reiterated it won’t join a Netanyahu-led government since the March 23 elections.

“I’m optimistic,” Smotrich said, declaring a right-wing government could be formed “without haters of Israel and terror supporters.”

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party’s headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has indicated he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election, the fifth in under three years.

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