Ra’am head says entire party committed to gov’t after MK abstains on key vote

Mansour Abbas promises Said al-Harumi will not be a rebel going forward, says he’d have voted in favor of the coalition if his yes vote had been necessary for confirmation

Ra'am MK Said al-Harumi at the Knesset, June 13, 2021 (Screen grab/Ynet)
Ra'am MK Said al-Harumi at the Knesset, June 13, 2021 (Screen grab/Ynet)

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas insisted Monday that his entire four-seat faction is a part of the new coalition, despite one of its members having abstained from the critical confirmation vote the previous night in the Knesset.

With MK Said al-Harumi not casting a vote, parliament approved the government with a paper-thin majority of 60-59.

Israel’s 36th Government marks the first time that an Arab party is a vital part of a coalition.

But al-Harumi’s abstention, over his opposition to planned demolitions of Bedouin homes in the Negev, raised questions as to the commitment of the party, and particularly al-Harumi, to the incoming government.

Abbas on Monday said the MK’s choice to abstain Sunday was not representative of how he will vote going forward.

“All four [MKS] are in,” Abbas told Kan news. “He [al-Harumi] is in the coalition.”

Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) talks with Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic Ra’am party during a special session to vote on the new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP)

Abbas explained that al-Harumi acted the way he did because there were still some final details to be ironed out regarding the Negev region in the south of the country, where there is a large Bedouin community.

However, Abbas said al-Harumi’s protest vote was coordinated in advance and that coalition leaders Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid had been aware of it. In addition, he said al-Harumi had been ready to back the government if there had been any chance it would not pass the vote.

“If there had been a danger that the government would not be established, he would have voted in favor,” Abbas said.

Despite the incident, Abbas insisted that Ra’am’s position in the coalition was not “conditional” and that the party would not have signed an agreement to be in the government if that were the case.

“We want the government and did our bit for its establishment,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned there will be no crisis, but we expect that our partners show a positive approach towards the demands of Arab society.”

The coalition represents an unprecedentedly diverse mix of eight parties, from right (Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu) to center (Yesh Atid and Blue and White), to left (Labor and Meretz), in addition to the conservative Islamist Ra’am. Their leaders have vowed to try to work via consensus to heal rifts in Israeli society without crossing their own ideological red lines.

Ra’am emerged in a kingmaker position after inconclusive March elections and was courted by both then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lapid. The party had initially preferred to work with Netanyahu, but the premier was unable to convince the Religious Zionism party and its leader Bezalel Smotrich to cooperate with the Arab party.

During Sunday night’s tense vote on confirming the government, three MKs from the predominantly Arab Joint List — Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi — stayed out of the chamber until the initial votes were counted, and had been ready to abstain if necessary to ensure the coalition was elected. Once it was clear their abstentions were not needed, they voted against it.

Tibi later explained that they oppose the Bennett-led government as it keeps a pro-settlement slant, but added that it was still preferable to Netanyahu’s continued rule.

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