No coalition talks until Jewish-Arab violence abates, says kingmaker Abbas

Ra’am leader urges calm and doesn’t rule out joining a Lapid government, but won’t pay attention to politics until clashes end

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 leader Mansour Abbas confirmed Thursday that all coalition negotiations with his party to help establish a government would remain frozen due to the ongoing violence between Jewish and Arab Israelis throughout the country.

With the Knesset divided into two blocs, neither of which have a majority, following the last elections in March, Ra’am has emerged as a potential kingmaker with its four Knesset seats.

“This is not the time,” he told Army Radio after the worst night of internal Jewish-Arab violence in years, with scenes of rioting, hate rallies and social chaos spreading throughout numerous cities, some of which were once seen as symbols of coexistence.

“There needs to be calm,” Abbas said, condemning the violence on both sides. Though he did not rule out joining a government formed by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who is leading efforts to establish a coalition, Abbas said it was a matter he could not give any thought to at the moment.

“Right now I prefer to focus on the crisis we are going through and afterwards we can talk politics,” he said. “There are no political contacts at this time.”

Violent confrontations were seen Wednesday night in Lod, Acre, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias and other locations, with many people injured, some of them seriously.

Police arrested over 400 people and 36 officers were hurt in clashes.

Attacks and vandalism continued Thursday morning with a stabbing, arson attacks and other unrest.

A police patrol care on fire in the city of Lod, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Violence between the Jewish and Arab communities spiraled from confrontations in Jerusalem surrounding the month-long Muslim month of Ramadan and clashes on the Temple Mount, and came to a head as Israel engaged in an escalating clash with terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

Already earlier this week, Ra’am said it was freezing the negotiations, potentially dooming efforts by the group of parties aiming to form a government that removes longtime premier Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Though Ra’am can’t give the bloc a majority in the Knesset, its support would give the parties enough seats to swear in a government by overcoming blocking votes from Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies.

At the time, a Ra’am source told the Kan public broadcaster that it was unclear if the party would again hold talks with Lapid — who is currently tasked with forming a government — before his mandate to assemble a coalition ends on June 2, as the resumption of negotiations would depend on the scope of the violence.

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip have been firing barrages of rockets toward Israeli communities since Monday, killing seven people in Israel and injuring dozens.

While Netanyahu’s Likud has sought to use the situation to pry right-wing parties Yamina and New Hope out of the anti-Netanyahu coalition, sources from those parties noted that more than three weeks remain for the negotiations window, and insisted Tuesday that the talks could go ahead if the violence ends quickly.

Unnamed officials close to Ra’am reportedly told Hebrew-language media that Abbas shared that view.

A Channel 13 report on Monday claimed a new coalition had been all but finalized when the violence escalated. Lapid and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett had reportedly intended to tell President Reuven Rivlin on Monday night that they had managed to muster a coalition, which would have relied on support from Ra’am for its majority, and that it could be sworn in next week.

Abbas was scheduled to meet with Lapid and Bennett on Monday afternoon, but the meeting was delayed, apparently due to the major clashes that broke out that morning between Palestinian rioters and police on the Temple Mount — clashes followed hours later by the first rocket barrages from Gaza.

While he wouldn’t be drawn out on how the violence, including the rocket attacks from Gaza, would influence Arab Israeli politics, Abbas told Army Radio that “in every crisis there is opportunity.”

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