Islamist party chief Abbas condemns terror attack, calls victims ‘innocents’

Unusual statement comes amid mounting pressure on far-right leader Smotrich to accept coalition with the conservative Arab Ra’am, which he has called ‘terror supporting’

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on April 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on April 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas implicitly condemned on Monday a recent Palestinian terror attack at Tapuach Junction in the West Bank that left three Israeli yeshiva students injured.

Abbas said that the Israelis who were shot on Sunday were “innocents” and said he hoped to one day live together with them in peace. The three wounded Israelis were studying at a yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

“As one who has formulated Ra’am’s vision, a vision of peace and mutual security, partnership and tolerance between peoples, I unequivocally oppose any harm to innocents and call for the preservation of human life and to give hope that we can live together in peace,” Abbas said.

However, his comments sparked a backlash in his own party.

“We stand completely behind our people the Palestinians and condemn all the actions of the occupation and the settlers against our people,” wrote fellow Ra’am MK Walid Taha.

“The position of Ra’am supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa mosque,” he said, referring to the Muslim holy site on the Temple Mount.

Sunday’s shooting was followed by several apparent retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers, including the storming of a Palestinian village in the predawn hours of Monday morning, where the settlers threw rocks and stun grenades, and started fires.

The conservative Islamist Ra’am is key to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hopes to remain in power and avoid a fifth round of elections in little more than two years. In a rare move for an Arab Israeli politician, Abbas has expressed willingness to back a right-wing government in order to advance legislative priorities for his community.

Israeli soldiers search cars at the Hawara checkpoint, the southern entrance to Nablus city in the West Bank, on May 3, 2021, a day after three Israelis were wounded in a reported attack at a bus stop at Tapuach Junction. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

While Abbas’s former colleagues in the predominantly Arab Joint List party regularly denounce terror attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, they most often append criticism of Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians.

Abbas did no such thing on Monday, merely adding: “My path is tolerance and peace between peoples and nations, and I have always worked to reconcile people in every legal way without quarrels and without wars, including within Arab society.”

Abbas’s statements come as the clock winds down on Netanyahu’s mandate to form a new government. The premier has until midnight on Tuesday to form one, or else risk seeing one of his rivals take his seat.

It remains unclear whether Netanyahu can yet form a coalition, however. Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich — whose seven seats are key to any right-wing, Netanyahu-led government — is vehemently opposed to any government that depends on Ra’am’s support.

“We will not be a partner in any government that leans actively or by the abstention of Ra’am or other terror supporters,” Smotrich said last month.

Channel 12 said Smotrich was unswayed by Abbas’ remarks.

Ra’am party officials had previously ruled out supporting Smotrich’s anti-Arab party in government. But Abbas has backtracked in recent days, hinting that he would be willing to back Smotrich from outside the government.

With the risk that Netanyahu will be forced to return his mandate to President Reuven Rivlin approaching with each passing day, some far-right rabbis have come out in favor of a government backed by the Islamists.

The ultra-nationalist Rabbi Tzvi Tau released a letter in which he expressed grudging support for Ra’am playing a role in a Netanyahu-led government. It would be a “desecration of the Lord’s name” for Ra’am to enter the government, he conceded, but that would be trumped by the “sanctification of God’s name” that would ensue should Netanyahu remain in power.

Jewish men pray at the new building of Har Hamor Yeshiva in the neighborhood of Har Homa, Jerusalem on August 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The sanctification will be greater than the desecration,” wrote Tau, who directs the Har Hamor Yeshiva and whose Noam faction within Zionist Union campaigned almost exclusively on opposing gay rights.

Others, however, have backed Smotrich’s position. Fifty-five rabbis signed a public petition condemning any partnership with Ra’am in late April, including the prominent Rabbi Shlomo Aviner — and the very same Tau who would later publicly support it.

Rabbi Haim Druckman, who directs the Or Etzion yeshiva, said in a video statement on Monday that no Israeli government could rely on the support of those whom he euphemistically deemed “others.”

“Of course, our right-wing government [must] depend on Jews who vote for it, and not others. No ‘others’ will crown our government…. The government must be based on Jews,” Druckman said, sitting side-by-side with Smotrich.

According to reports, Abbas and Druckman met for more than an hour Monday, following pressure from Netanyahu’s associates in an attempt to sway the rabbi.

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