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Ra’am says it could back direct premiership vote, derides far-right ‘incitement’

Islamist party to ‘examine’ initiative pushed by Netanyahu; party chief Abbas meets with Yair Lapid, also doesn’t rule out supporting Bennett for PM

Ra'am party chief Mansour Abbas speaks with reporters, April 19, 2021 (Tal Schneider/Zman Yisrael)
Ra'am party chief Mansour Abbas speaks with reporters, April 19, 2021 (Tal Schneider/Zman Yisrael)

Ra’am will consider supporting a bill for a special election for prime minister, a proposal floated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on the right to ensure Netanyahu’s political survival, Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas told reporters on Monday.

“Last Thursday, the law for direct elections for prime minister was set on the table. We in Ra’am are examining the law and its consequences and our stance will be determined by the interest of Arab society and of Ra’am,” Abbas said.

The March 23 elections, the fourth round of voting in two years, left the country’s political leaders deadlocked, with neither Netanyahu’s camp nor those seeking his removal able to gain a clear majority.

The party being one of the few genuine free agents in the Israeli political arena, Ra’am’s four seats have made it a likely partner in any potential government.

Officials from the conservative Islamic party, including Abbas, met with key Netanyahu rival Yair Lapid on Monday afternoon to discuss coalition politics.

Mansour Abbas of Ra’am (left) meets with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, April 19, 2021 (Courtesy)

The direct vote proposal — sent to Abbas on Thursday by Netanyahu’s Likud party — would see a special election held for Israelis to pick the next prime minister. There would not be another election for the Knesset. A similar proposal was floated amid political deadlock after the September 2019 elections, and went nowhere.

Mansour Abbas and his Ra’am faction discuss coalition politics on Monday, April 19, 2021 (Aaron Boxerman/The Times of Israel)

Netanyahu has consistently polled as the most preferred candidate for the position of premier, even though his numbers are well below 50 percent.

Abbas also said that he would not rule out supporting a government led by right-wing Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett, either. Abbas’s former colleagues in the predominantly Arab Joint List have repeatedly ruled out supporting such a government.

“All the options are on the table,” Abbas said at his press conference, speaking in front of Israeli flags.

But a possible government with Ra’am’s support has been ruled out by the far-right Religious Zionism party, which has called Ra’am’s members “terror supporters.” Netanyahu would likely need both the support of Religious Zionism and Ra’am in order to form a government.

In a recent statement, Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich said that even a fifth round of elections in two years would be preferable to a government with Ra’am’s support.

Smotrich will not support a government “dependent on anti-Zionist terror supporters, and make us all hostages,” the settler MK said last week.

Ra’am’s charter deems Zionism racist and backs a right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. But Abbas’s key demands of his coalition partners have mostly centered on bread-and-butter issues for Arab Israelis, such as fighting organized crime in Arab cities and legalizing unrecognized Bedouin townships in southern Israel.

“Most of Israeli society and Israeli parties accept Ra’am, and what it presents and represents,” Abbas said in his remarks on Monday.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Abbas further condemned Religious Zionism — although not by name — as promoting “racist discourse.”

“We are attacked by people who are trying to tarnish us as supporters of terrorism while legitimizing inciting and racist discourse. Ra’am stands firmly opposed to this discourse and won’t change its positions,” Abbas said, urging other parties to condemn the characterization.

Other senior Ra’am officials have been less diplomatic than Abbas in recent days. In response to Religious Zionism’s campaign against Ra’am, parliamentarian Waleed Taha tweeted that Smotrich and his colleagues were “scum of the human race.”

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