As budget progresses, Ra’am chief said to warn coalition not keeping promises

Mansour Abbas quoted by TV saying government ‘at a crossroads,’ failing to live up to obligations to Arab public due to fear of criticism from the right

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas has made some harshly critical comments about the coalition he is a part of ahead of the approval of the state budget, according to a Channel 12 report Friday, saying the government is failing to fulfill promises it made toward the Arab public upon its formation.

The network quoted statements Abbas supposedly made privately, though it did not detail the setting in which they were made or to whom.

“The fear of criticism from the right is preventing the government from living up to its obligations,” Abbas was quoted as saying. “They forgot that [former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu would walk around boasting of how much money he’d transferred to the Arab public. The shadow of Netanyahu looms over this government. You can’t stay forever afraid of what they might say in Likud.”

Referencing his past wish to join a Netanyahu-led government, which he believed would be the most capable of making moves to benefit Arabs due to its hard-right credentials, Abbas added: “It’s not for nothing that I thought it was preferable for Ra’am to go with a right-wing government.”

In a potential threat, the Ra’am leader said that the current government “is at a crossroads” over its failure to deliver to the Arab public.

The report did not say what issues specifically Abbas was unhappy with, but indicated that many decisions that would better the lives of the Arab community were not being implemented for fear of attacks from the right.

The coalition agreement with Ra’am, whose support is crucial to the existence of the government, includes tens of billions in funds and government development plans for Arab society, legalization of three Bedouin unrecognized villages, and an amendment to the controversial 2017 Kaminitz law, which targets illegal Arab construction.

The fact that the current government, made up of an assortment of rightist, leftist and centrist parties, is dependent on the support of Islamist Ra’am, has been a key line of attack for Likud and other right-wing parties in the opposition, who claim Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is beholden to the whims of an anti-Zionist party, endangering Israel’s security (and ignoring the fact that Netanyahu, too, attempted to form a government dependent on Ra’am before being ousted from power).

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas, seated, at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Any perceived gains for the Arab party within the government have been regularly met with attacks from the right, and accusations that the right-wing prime minister is abandoning his values for political expediency.

Earlier this month the Knesset gave its approval to the 2021-2022 state budget in its first readings, passing four separate bills making up the legislative package, in a major milestone for the coalition.

Abbas’s comments were also seen as an attempt to pressure the coalition into steps benefiting the Arab public as work on the budget enters the final stretch.

This month’s bills were the first time budget legislation was approved by parliament since 2018. Recurrent government collapses and repeated elections since the end of that year have left Israel without a budget for over two years.

The budget is a crucial test for Bennett’s new government as it seeks to solidify its hold on power. The bills were passed after understandings were reached in the coalition on various issues under contention.

All bills are now under further review in parliament’s Finance Committee and must pass their second and third readings in the plenum to become law.

Failure to pass the pair of budget bills in three readings in the Knesset plenum by a November 4 deadline would automatically dissolve parliament and trigger elections.

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