Lapid and Mansour Abbas agree Ra’am will end boycott, return to battered coalition

Islamist party to again back government, which will advance the faction’s priorities such as recognizing Bedouin towns and providing funding to Arab communities

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) speaks with MK Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra'am party, in the Knesset plenum on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) speaks with MK Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra'am party, in the Knesset plenum on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra’am party, which boycotted the governing coalition earlier this month, have agreed that Ra’am will return to the fold.

During a lengthy meeting on Wednesday, Lapid and Abbas agreed Ra’am will resume voting with the coalition after the Knesset recess ends on May 9, reported Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

The Islamist Ra’am party froze its involvement in the coalition earlier this month as pressure mounted on it over the ongoing tensions and violence between police and Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

It has since issued various conditions for a return to parliamentary and government participation, including bread and butter Arab society issues such as money for economic development and advancing housing plans.

The government was already on the ropes after lawmaker Idit Silman, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, bolted the coalition, erasing its single-seat majority in the Knesset.

After Ra’am returns to the government, the coalition will accelerate several moves important to the party, including the immediate recognition of illegal Bedouin villages in southern Israel. Ra’am draws much of its voter support from Bedouin in the Negev region.

MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra’am party in the Knesset, on November 2, 2021. (Noam Moshkavitz/GPO)

The government is also expected to pass large budgets for construction and infrastructure in Arab communities, and for the increased integration of Arab citizens into government services and the public sector.

Those moves are aimed at giving Ra’am evidence that its participation in the government pays dividends for its voters, and help the party’s standing vis-a-vis the Joint List, a rival Arab political faction in the opposition.

Ra’am split with the Joint List to join the government last year, marking the first time an independent Arab party constituted a crucial part of a ruling Israeli coalition.

Lapid and Abbas also discussed upcoming Knesset votes that will require Ra’am’s participation.

It is clear to all parties involved, however, that a serious escalation of violence, or major security incident, could still bring the partnership between Ra’am and its coalition allies to an end.

Palestinians perform Friday prayers, the third of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on April 22, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Ra’am’s decision to temporarily freeze its government participation on April 17 was intended to allow political tensions surrounding the violence at the mosque to cool, while the Knesset was in recess anyway, making the party’s boycott largely declarative.

Bennett and Lapid were not on board with the move, which was initiated by Abbas, but understood it was a way for Ra’am to remain in the government.

There have been more dramatic events since Ra’am announced its freeze, including fighting on the Temple Mount, a provocative right-wing march in Jerusalem, and rockets from Gaza, but the party has managed to remain on the sidelines, and the coalition has stayed afloat.

Ra’am sat out of coalition talks ahead of the ousting of renegade lawmaker Amichai Chikli from Bennett’s Yamina party, but was anyway not required to attend the discussions.

Even after Ra’am’s return, the coalition will not be in the clear. The parliament is deadlocked, and Jerusalem remains on edge, with police boosting deployment ahead of Ramadan’s last Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, a frequent flashpoint that has seen clashes between police and worshipers regularly in recent weeks. Fresh clashes broke out at the site Friday.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa complex, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Over the past few weeks, it has been the site of riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, during heightened tensions as Muslims mark Ramadan and Jews observed Passover.

While Jordan has led widespread Arab criticism of Israel’s policies and police actions at the mount, Israel has said its security forces have responded to Palestinian riots there, stirred up by the Hamas terror organization and other extremist groups.

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