Netanyahu urges 'patience' as coalition talks drag on

Ra’am open to cooperate with Netanyahu as cracks deepen in outgoing coalition

Islamist party’s chief Abbas says wants to work with any coalition that is formed; National Unity, Yesh Atid squabble over Lapid’s leadership of expected opposition in new Knesset

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at a conference held by the Anti-Defamation League in Tel Aviv, November 16, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at a conference held by the Anti-Defamation League in Tel Aviv, November 16, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas on Wednesday indicated his Islamist party could cooperate with the right-religious coalition that Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is working to assemble, as other factions in the outgoing coalition publicly feuded.

The comments by Abbas and the squabbling between the Yesh Atid and National Unity parties highlighted the divides in the emerging opposition, whose members are poised to soon find themselves out of power, since Netanyahu and his allies won a majority of Knesset seats in the November 1 election.

At a conference hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, Abbas was asked about the prospects of his party working with the prospective new government, which along with Netanyahu’s Likud party includes ultra-Orthodox and far-right factions.

“We want to work with any government that is formed so we can complete the plans we started with,” he said, referring to Ra’am’s efforts on behalf of Arab Israelis in the last government.

Abbas also stressed his party’s “willingness to accept the other” and work with a diverse range of factions, after the interviewer noted to him that members of Netanyahu’s bloc regularly denounced Ra’am as “terror supporters” over the past year, though it has repeatedly condemned terror.

“We don’t have to agree on everything. We, as citizens of the State of Israel, need to work with the elected Israeli government,” he added.

The remarks suggested Abbas was softening his opposition to Netanyahu, after pledging in September not to back the Likud leader’s bid to put together a coalition after the election.

However, it seems unlikely that any cooperation between Ra’am and Netanyahu’s presumptive coalition would be extensive, due to Likud’s partnership with the far-right Religious Zionism, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich has ruled out allying with, or even seeking support from, the Islamist party.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich as party chiefs pose for a collective photograph during the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a recording leaked last month, Smotrich accused Netanyahu of “lying through his teeth” about efforts to enlist Ra’am’s backing after elections in March 2021, while explaining he was against including Abbas in a coalition because any benefits for Arabs should come from “us, the state, the Jews.”

Netanyahu has denied he ever sought an alliance with Ra’am, despite widespread accounts to the contrary.

Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity party lobbed criticism at Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid over the opposition parties that the outgoing premier is slated to represent as leader of the opposition.

An unnamed National Unity source told journalists that the party will “continue to do what is good for the country in a practical way and not in a way that serves Lapid’s needs, which we have already seen where they lead.”

“Lapid has proven that he has no ability to lead either the opposition or the coalition — we still haven’t heard him take responsibility for his failures,” the source said in a statement issued to several Hebrew media outlets. “He and his people are doing what they do best — slandering others.”

Shortly after the Knesset was sworn in Tuesday, Lapid gathered National Unity head Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, Labor leader Merav Michaeli, and Abbas for what his office dubbed a meeting of the heads of opposition parties.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi met separately with Yesh Atid faction director Boaz Toporovsky. Hadash-Ta’al is not aligned with the Lapid-led bloc, but is a committed opposition party.

Tibi said Wednesday that “with all due respect to Yesh Atid, I don’t owe you anything.”

“You held a meeting of opposition leaders and someone forced you not to invite us at all, so do I owe you something? I don’t want to sit down with you for a coordination meeting at all,” he said.

Michaeli, meanwhile, called for unity in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

“I call on my friends in Yesh Atid and National Unity to stop publicly bickering and join us in the struggle,” she said in a statement.

The Labor head said the parties should unite against the “dangerous and anti-democratic” legislative initiatives being pushed for by “Netanyahu and his extremist partners.”

“Lapid and Gantz — don’t let your ego rule you. Our democracy is at stake. We can’t let them destroy it. Show leadership and responsibility,” she added.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu called for patience as coalition talks drag on.

“A little patience, and with God’s help we’ll establish a right-wing government,” Netanyahu told reporters after meeting Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

Deri has demanded the post of finance minister, but so has Smotrich, who sees it as his second choice behind being defense minister — a job Netanyahu has reportedly told him he cannot have.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri leaves a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Netanyahu met later Wednesday with MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads the extremist Otzma Yehudit party and is demanding to be police minister in the next government.

Likud claimed “significant progress” in negotiations with Otzma Yehudit after the meeting, without elaborating.

Earlier in the day, Ben Gvir stuck out the unfamiliar position as being the calm adult in the room, calling on Likud and Religious Zionism to “show responsibility” and tone down the “slander and quarrels.”

Echoing words Netanyahu once threw against Ben Gvir, he tweeted, “Enough with the friendly fire.”

“Bezalel is a complete idealist, and I call on everyone to show responsibility. Let’s enter into intense negotiations in closed rooms until the smoke appears. We will not establish a right-wing government with slander and quarrels,” Ben Gvir wrote.

Israel’s 25th Knesset was sworn in Tuesday, but the outgoing ministers will continue to serve in their roles until a new coalition is established. Netanyahu has been pressing to form a government as quickly as possible, and originally had hoped to swear in Israel’s 37th government alongside the Knesset.

Amy Spiro and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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