'We stand at the same distance' from the two rival camps

As sides court him, Ra’am chief says won’t compromise on national, civil rights

Mansour Abbas says any government he backs must end Arab home demolitions, have broad plan to combat crime in Arab towns

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

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas said his party will not compromise on either its national or civilian rights when deciding who to back to become the next prime minister.

“Our red lines are our rights whether national or civilian rights,” Abbas told the Turkish Anadolu Agency in an interview published Wednesday. “We don’t negotiate or compromise on these rights. We may not be able to achieve them all, but we will not abandon them.”

The comments come as Netanyahu loyalists have intensified their campaign in recent days to legitimize support for the idea that Ra’am could prop up a right-wing, Netanyahu-led coalition from outside the government, claiming that the Islamist party is only focused on civilian issues.

Abbas has not committed to either the pro- or anti-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocs after emerging as a potential kingmaker following last week’s inconclusive election, Israel’s fourth in two years. Both Netanyahu’s Likud and the so-called “change bloc” of parties opposing the premier have been courting Abbas since the vote.

Abbas was expected to make a speech on Thursday, and the political system was bracing for a sign as to the direction in which he might lean.

Abbas told Anadolu he was prepared to back a candidate to form the next government “in return for improving conditions of the Arab citizens and ending injustice, marginalization and exclusion against them.”

Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party, speaks to a crowd in the northern town of Maghar on March 26, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

He said a broad government plan to combat crime in Arab towns and an end to Arab home demolitions were among Ra’am’s demands in exchange for its backing of the next premier.

“There is also the issue of our people in Negev as there are around 100,000 of them living there in undeveloped and unrecognized areas,” Abbas stated.

“Our options are open and we are negotiating with the right and the left,” he said. “We stand at the same distance from the two camps, and we are the third camp.”

Aides to Netanyahu, who before the election categorically rejected any reliance on Ra’am in forming a government, are reportedly seeking support from the party in the form of its abstention or absence for parliament when a vote on forming the next government is held. However, the prime minister will also need the backing of the Religious Zionism faction, an alliance of right-wing nationalist religious parties that see Ra’am as anti-Zionist and supportive of Palestinian terrorism. Netanyahu himself branded Abbas an anti-Zionist before the election.

Ra’am has been emphatically rejected as a government-building partner by leaders of Religious Zionism, while Ra’am has ruled out cooperating with Religious Zionism’s extremist Otzma Yehudit faction.

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference, March 31, 2021. (Channel 13 News)

Ra’am won four seats in last week’s election, and along with the right-wing Yamina, with seven seats, has not committed to either bloc. The two parties hold the balance of power, but it is still not clear if any grouping can cobble together a coalition due to ideological differences among parties in each prospective bloc and disputes in the anti-Netanyahu bloc over who would lead it.

A Tuesday report said Ra’am was leaning toward giving outside support to a Netanyahu-led government.

Intensive negotiations between parties are ongoing as President Reuven Rivlin will next week begin meetings with party leaders to hear their recommendations as to who should be given first shot at forming a government.

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