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Netanyahu said not ruling out ‘parliamentary cooperation’ with Ra’am

Prime minister fears the Islamist party could back legislation that would bar him from forming a coalition, report says

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the Ra'am headquarters in Tamra, March 23, 2021, at the end of voting on election day. (Flash90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the Ra'am headquarters in Tamra, March 23, 2021, at the end of voting on election day. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with the Islamist Ra’am party, associates of the premier told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday.

With most of the votes counted, neither Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious allies nor the bloc opposing the Likud leader appear likely to have mustered a majority in Tuesday’s vote.

Ra’am could potentially put either side over the 61-seat mark for a majority, but right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu camp, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance. Netanyahu himself has ruled out sitting with Ra’am in a coalition.

Netanyahu is concerned Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas could support legislation that would prevent him from forming a coalition, the Kan report said.

Netanyahu’s opponents are considering the possibility of replacing Likud MK Yariv Levin as Knesset speaker, shifting control over the parliament’s agenda to a lawmaker opposed to the prime minister.

With the speakership, lawmakers from the anti-Netanyahu bloc could pass legislation barring a candidate under criminal indictment from forming a government. Doing so would prevent Netanyahu, who is on trial in three graft cases, from being tasked with assembling a coalition.

Such a scenario could only unfold if the anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties wins 61 seats in parliament — an outcome that has yet to be determined — and if all support the bill.

It was unclear from the Kan report what Ra’am would gain from cooperation with Likud. Abbas has pushed for a new approach in Arab Israeli politics, one that would enable the community to be more influential in government decision-making, and has not committed to either electoral bloc.

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 Wednesday report said Likud officials reached out to Abbas to ascertain if he would back the legislation barring Netanyahu from being prime minister.

Citing “political sources,” the Walla news said Abbas told Likud he wasn’t in favor of laws aimed against specific individuals, but the party’s position on the matter had not been finalized.

Likud denied the report, calling it “total lies.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out sitting with Abbas in a coalition, saying that Ra’am was no different from the Arab-majority Joint List alliance — long considered a political pariah due to some of its members non-Zionist and anti-Zionist views.

“Mansour Abbas? I won’t rely [for a majority] on anyone who opposes Zionism,” Netanyahu said in a Channel 12 interview last week.

But with Ra’am emerging as a potential kingmaker, Netanyahu may have to cooperate with it in some way to achieve a majority in the Knesset, though Likud members were publicly split over a possible alliance with Abbas.

Also Wednesday, Ra’am and far-right Itamar Ben Gvir ruled out joining forces in a coalition, denting the already slim prospects that Netanyahu could form a razor-thin government after the fourth election in two years. Ben Gvir appears set to enter the Knesset with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism faction.

Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction speaks at the Religious Zionism party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Abbas’s movement is the political wing of Israel’s Southern Islamic Movement; like Hamas, it is modeled off the Muslim Brotherhood. Abbas has in the past praised aspects of Hamas’s 2017 charter, although he also criticized the document for not ending the targeting of Israeli civilians by the terrorist group.

Abbas on Wednesday continued to be evasive over potential alliances, telling Channel 12: “Ra’am’s approach is to not rule out anyone who doesn’t rule us out. If a ruling party makes contact, Ra’am will hold the process appropriately and respectfully, our partners would be a ruling party and a candidate for prime minister, not their satellite candidate.”

He said he hasn’t yet been contacted by Netanyahu.

Arab parties have only been part of a coalition once, in the 1990s, to help pass the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. But the current deadlock could force collaborations that were unthinkable until not long ago.

While Israel’s Arab parties have run together in a four-party bloc known as the Joint List in most elections since 2015, the alliance broke apart in early February when Ra’am left the fold.

Abbas split from the Joint List after he took positions the other parties saw as crossing red lines — including contemplating an alliance with Netanyahu and his Likud party.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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