In a speech carried live on all of Israel’s main television stations, Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Ra’am party which won four seats in last week’s elections, issued a call for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel.
Abbas, who broke away from the Joint List of Arab parties in these elections, is being courted by both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu camps as they battle to muster a new Israeli government.
In his speech, the leader of the conservative Islamic party did not choose a side — declaring that he was part of neither bloc but rather was seeking to champion the interests of the Arab public that backed him at the ballot box.
Much of his brief address was strikingly conciliatory. Notably, he described himself as “a man of the Islamic Movement, a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel,” choosing not to refer to himself as a Palestinian. He spoke in Hebrew.
Abbas began by wishing peace to the citizens of Israel.
“I carry a prayer of hope, and the search for coexistence based on mutual respect and genuine equality,” he said. “What we have in common is greater than what divides us.”
He quoted from the Quran instructing humanity to recall that all were created from one man and one woman, and are obligated to recognize our common humanity.
“I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society, courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples,” he continued.
“I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and home to two peoples.”
His Ra’am party, he said, “respects every person whoever they are, sanctifies life and abhors all violence against anybody based on political or national or religious reasons. The time has come for us to listen to each other, to respect each other’s narrative, to respect the other.”
“Reality is changing, and we are refusing to recognize that. Israel has changed its face, but she refuses to open her eyes,” Abbas said, referencing a famous Hebrew-language song. “Now is the time for change.”
“We don’t have to agree on everything,” he continued. “We will obviously differ on many issues, but we must give ourselves and our children the right and opportunity to come to know our neighbors. Every one of us has a name, a culture, a story, experiences and a narrative.
“If we cannot find the way to defeat ignorance and beat racism, we will bequeath the next generation a complex and dangerous and impossible reality.”
“Unlike all the politicians who dealt with boycotts of left and right, I didn’t rule out anybody,” he noted.
“My approach is what can we say yes to, and less what we can say no to.”
“I represent 20% of the [Israeli] public, dealing with all manner of problems — from the absence of personal security, and the lack a roof over their heads, all the way to the lack of personal and collective fulfillment.
“We have an opportunity to initiate a change and create a civil society greater than its components.
“What’s needed at this moment is leadership and responsibility: Leadership that can bring the public to a better place, and responsibility that can create trust between the sectors so that we can stride forward to a better future.”
“If the road in Wadi Ara is problematic, it doesn’t care if the person using it is an Arab or a Jew. If beds are short at Soroka Hospital, that can hurt patients in Beersheba or Rahat. If there is crime and extortion, it doesn’t exclude this or that business because of the kind of store sign. If my neighbor goes hungry, me and my family are in danger.
“And if I don’t live in peace within the state, I won’t be able to seek peace with my neighbors.
“This is the time to find the common ground, to create a different reality for all the citizens of the state,” he said.
Abbas noted that he has been described as “holding the balance of power,” and being “the kingmaker” after the elections. He said he doesn’t seek any such description.
“I don’t want to be part of any [political] bloc — right or left. I am here in a different bloc — the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, that for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”
Regarding recommendations for who will be prime minister, Abbas said: “Our recommendations are different. I recommend that we all change the reality. I am here to look ahead, and we expect that others, on left and right, will adopt our approach.
“Renewal is largely about creating change in the climate. We all live in the same climate. This is the time for change,” he concluded.