Reporter's notebook

In US, Rivlin proudly shows off inclusion of Islamist Ra’am in Israeli coalition

In farewell tour, president highlights his work for Jewish-Arab coexistence; unoptimistic Leah Goldin tries to get UN chief to force Hamas to hand over her soldier son’s remains

Tal Schneider

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the media after meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the media after meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday ended three busy days of meetings and farewells to the US diplomatic and political leadership as he neared the end of his seven years in office.

US President Joe Biden, Congress Speaker Nancy Pelosi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and others wanted to hear about complex combination of circumstances that led to the formation of the right-center-left-Islamist government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

In all of his meetings and all the events he attended in New York and Washington DC, Rivlin stressed his many years of contribution to improving Arab-Jewish relations and took pride in the fact that Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am has become the first-ever Arab party to play a key role in the formation of an Israeli government.

In Washington, Rivlin was careful not to reveal too much of internal Israeli politics and politely dismissed most of the questions about relations between the various party leaders in the new government. Still, he could not resist highlighting the presence of Ra’am in the coalition, proudly telling Biden, congressional leaders and heads of Jewish organizations that a religious Islamist party was now a major part of an Israeli unity government.

It is doubtful whether the complex nature of the current eight-party coalition is understandable to all of Israel’s friends in the United States. Some may be convinced that Benjamin Netanyahu will be back in prime ministerial business in a blink of an eye. Some Israelis think so too.

In the meantime, the addition of Abbas to the 36th government is a new way of showing a modern, balanced Israel, one that shares common values of tolerance and diversity with Americans.

MK Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Piling pressure on Guterres

Rivlin held a meeting Tuesday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Manhattan, where they discussed Security Council Resolution 2474, which calls for the return of those missing during armed conflict.

Leah Goldin, the mother of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin who was killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose remains are believed to be held by the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip, was present for about 50 minutes.

Goldin has frequently stressed — unfortunately, she is not always listened to — that the issue must be dealt with as a result of the UN Security Council resolution in June 2019.

Kuwait led the work on the resolution, and in June 2020 the one-year anniversary of its passing was celebrated as if the year had seen total success in returning people that went missing during fighting.

At the Tuesday meeting, Goldin asked for the resolution to be implemented in the case of her son.

Goldin told The Times of Israel that Guterres was very attentive and allowed her to speak at length. After she finished, Rivlin also pressed the UN secretary-general on the issue.

This may all be in vain, as years of waiting for any piece of information regarding her son have taught Goldin.

The Israeli delegation is hoping that Guterres will issue a statement demanding that Hamas return missing Israelis Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, along with the bodies of Goldin and fellow soldier Oron Shaul, as an overture before any long-term Gaza ceasefire can be negotiated with the terror group.

“Let them show goodwill before Israel eases the conditions,” Goldin told The Times of Israel.

(From L-R) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Leah Goldin, Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan and President Reuven Rivlin at the UN on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

On the sideline of gatherings this week in New York, sources told The Times of Israel that the US would not agree to condition long- or short-term ceasefire talks on the return of the Gaza captives. However, Washington is not represented in the ongoing negotiations currently taking place in Egypt.

To get Guterres to act, the meetings held so far aren’t enough. Ron Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress and a close friend of Guterres, is trying to help Israeli leaders convince him. So is Irwin Cotler, a world-renowned jurist and former Canadian justice minister.

Nevertheless, Goldin is not optimistic. She says she has experienced many disappointments and been told many lies over the years.

On the other hand, she views these days as a crucial period. There is a new government in Israel, and after last month’s 11-day round of fighting in Gaza, this could be the right time to change the discourse and make progress.

“Now there is a window of opportunity,” she said.

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