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Netanyahu met with Ra’am chief, urged him not to back Lapid-Bennett coalition

PM’s office refuses to comment on last week’s sit-down, during which he also reportedly urged Mansour Abbas to ignore Likud’s claims it never sought the Islamist party’s support

A combination image showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) casting his vote in the Knesset election in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL) and Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)
A combination image showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) casting his vote in the Knesset election in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL) and Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas last week, in an effort to persuade him not to support a government led by Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu’s office on Monday declined to comment on the meeting.

According to Channel 12 news, the premier also urged Abbas to ignore his Likud party’s new claim that it never sought Ra’am’s support to form a government after the March 23 elections.

Ra’am, meanwhile, said the meeting focused on police conduct in recent riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City and the pending evictions of several Palestinians families from the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Separately, Abbas was scheduled to sit down Monday with Lapid and Bennett, but that meeting was delayed.

Sources in Yamina and Yesh Atid said there was no connection between the postponement and Abbas’s meeting with Netanyahu.

Mansour Abbas of Ra’am (left) meets with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, April 19, 2021. (Courtesy)

Bennett and Abbas met Sunday, when reports said Ra’am was expected to actively back, but not be part of, the prospective unity government led by Bennett and Lapid, providing key backing that the pair need to build a coalition.

In return, the emerging government will honor a list of Ra’am demands said to include budgets to fight violent crime in the Arab community and recognizing three Bedouin communities in the south of the country currently considered illegal. Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas is reported to have made other demands aimed at increasing government activities on behalf of the Arab community.

The so-called change bloc headed by Bennett and Lapid needs Ra’am, which holds four seats in the Knesset, in order for its coalition to be voted in by parliament. Though such a coalition would still not have a majority in the Knesset, with Ra’am’s help, it would have enough to beat the “no votes” from the bloc of right-wing and religious parties that want Netanyahu to remain in power.

Netanyahu also tried to form a coalition with Ra’am’s support, but ultimately failed because the far-right Religious Zionism party refused to sit in a government backed in any way by a party it said was made up of “terror supporters.”

Earlier Monday, sources familiar with the ongoing coalition negotiations between Lapid, Bennett and parties in the anti-Netanyahu “change bloc” told Channel 12 news that the first agreements could be signed within a day.

A swearing-in ceremony could be held as soon as next week, after the Shavuot holiday, the report said.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett at a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid last week received the presidential mandate to try to form a government and has led the negotiations. The sides are believed to have agreed that Bennett will serve as prime minister for the government’s first two years, with Lapid serving for the latter two.

Following inconclusive March elections, the Knesset has been divided between the Netanyahu-led bloc and so-called change blocs, with neither having a majority and Yamina and Ra’am holding the balance of power.

Netanyahu, who was first tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government, failed to garner a majority within his allotted 28 days.

As the change coalition construction advances, Netanyahu and his Likud party are pressuring Yamina to not join with Lapid in a government that the prime minister has repeatedly warned will be “left-wing.”

If Lapid fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends June 2, any Knesset member could try to get the endorsement of a majority of lawmakers for prime minister. If that 21-day period fails to yield a coalition, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a fifth election in two and a half years.

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