Mansour Abbas holds onto Ra’am’s top spot in primary, fills out slate with loyalists

MK Walid Taha, Knesset faction director Waleed Alhawashla and MK Iman Khatib-Yasin clinch spots 2-4; remainder of roster to be determined at a later date

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Ra'am leader MK Mansour Abbas leads a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, June 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ra'am leader MK Mansour Abbas leads a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, June 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas secured another term as party leader on Saturday, shored up by three additional candidates allied to his vision of continuing participation in mainstream Israeli politics.

Abbas ran unopposed for the party’s top slot and garnered 85 percent of votes cast by general assembly members of Ra’am’s umbrella movement, the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

Abbas loyalists MK Walid Taha, Knesset faction director and general assembly chair Waleed Alhawashla and MK Iman Khatib-Yasin rounded out the first four spots on Ra’am’s list. Taha and Khatib-Yasin also ran unopposed, while Alhawashla beat out two other candidates to clinch the Negev-dedicated seat. Saturday’s limited primary only covered the top four spots, and the rest of the list will be determined at a later date.

The party is not expected to win more than four seats in the next election, as it did in the previous one.

Leading Ra’am since 2018, Abbas stirred up Israeli politics last June by making Ra’am the first Arab party to join an Israeli coalition in decades. Since joining hands with left-wing, right-wing, and centrist parties to form the now-outgoing coalition, Abbas has navigated Ra’am through a year that proved politically challenging, both within the Knesset and within its Islamist base.

Ra’am’s primary was held on the second day of Operation Breaking Dawn, the latest military conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

In Saturday comments made in Arabic, Abbas distanced Ra’am’s coalition membership from the operation, which has unified Jewish Israeli political support.

An Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2022. The Israel Defense Forces says it is carrying out strikes on terror targets as barrages of rockets are fired at Israeli towns. (AFP)

“We chose to be part of the coalition and not the government,” he said, referring to ministerial roles, “in order not to be present in discussions about wars and military operations, and we refused to accept offices and positions in the government to avoid influencing difficult decisions for our people,” Abbas wrote in a Facebook post.

“We have no influence on military operations. We are in the Knesset to work for Arab society and not to influence the foreign and security policy of the State of Israel,” he said to a Channel 12 reporter.

Many voices on the Arab street, including several politicians from the opposition’s Joint List faction, have vociferously condemned the operation.

Abbas is expected to want to join the next coalition. Without sitting in power, Abbas cannot continue to prove his thesis that cooperating in Israeli politics will eventually lead to equality and help tackle Palestinian national aspirations.

Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas (C) delivers a statement to the press at the Knesset, with fellow party MKs Walid Taha (L) and Mazen Ghanaim (R) standing by, May 11, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Portraying parliament as an arena of national struggle is a mistake and a delusion, and Arab parties should recognize this fact. There are other battlegrounds,” Abbas wrote, in a jab at the majority Arab Joint List faction’s policies.

Laying the ground for various options in future coalition negotiations, Abbas wrote on Saturday that he doesn’t discern between “right and the left,” in part because Israeli leaders are relatively similar in their approaches to “foreign affairs and security.”

Waleed Alhawashla. (Courtesy)

Saturday’s primary indicated that Ra’am’s leaders and its Islamic Movement advisers had learned from their mistakes in the 24th Knesset.

In the last election, the party ran with several candidates who went on to create problems for the coalition throughout its existence due to their harder ideological views.

With Taha, Alhawashla, and Khatib-Yasin, this time the Islamic Movement has stacked Ra’am’s deck with politicians committed to Abbas’s coalition vision.

MK Iman Khatib-Yasin leads a Committee meeting at the Knesset, November 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The eclectic outgoing coalition was formed on the premise that areas of ideological disagreement — chiefly surrounding security and the Palestinians — could be set aside in favor of the majority of socioeconomic issues upon which the eight constituent parties could agree.

By January, security-related challenges reared their heads in various fields and in legislation. By April, security shocks on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount reverberated into the Knesset, and Ra’am froze its coalition membership. While Abbas wrangled the party’s way back into the coalition, he ultimately struggled to control party MK Mazen Ghanaim.

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas (L) speaks with his party MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A former Balad party mayor of Sakhnin, Ghanaim was brought into Ra’am in 2021 on the promise of attracting votes. With an eye toward retaining his own voters in a 2023 bid to reprise his mayorship, Ghanaim ultimately eschewed coalition discipline and refused to vote for ideologically challenging legislation, playing a contributory role to the unraveling of the coalition in June.

Some half of the Islamic Movement’s roughly 600 general assembly members voted in Saturday’s primary.

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