Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas revealed on Tuesday the content of unconsummated 2019 coalition negotiations with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that he had received wide-ranging promises, including for the canceling of the controversial Kamenitz Law, were he to have joined a Netanyahu-led government.
Abbas’s comments came as opposition parties tried to portray him as being in league with the Hamas terror group, as they stepped up efforts to discredit the coalition government ahead of the crucial budget vote this week.
The government will fall if the budget fails to pass and the Likud-led opposition has been working to try and exacerbate rifts in the coalition that includes right-wing, centrist, left-wing and the Islamist Ra’am parties.
Speaking to the Ynet news site, Abbas called the Likud effort hypocritical, saying that Netanyahu offered Ra’am everything it was getting as a coalition party now when he was trying to woo Ra’am into a government with him, and that Likud knew exactly what Ra’am stands for.
“The same people who are inciting against us today, knew all about all of our activities, about the NGOs, about our beliefs. Everything is on our pages in the media, and the intelligence, security and law enforcement were aware of our activities for the last 25 years, and they all say it is legal,” Abbas told Ynet.
“Netanyahu knew this, he was prime minister and in charge of all the security apparatuses, and suddenly now he has discovered principles and is inciting against us,” Abbas said sarcastically. “He believes that what is owed to him is not owed to others. Only he can make a coalition with Ra’am, but not others; if they do it’s not right, not legitimate.”
“We are explaining this to all the citizens of Israel, Jews, and Arabs: that we will continue with our political partnership on a moderate path,” Abbas said.
He also detailed the specific offers he received from Netanyahu, saying he had physical proof that he could eventually reveal.
“Everything we have received in the current government, we received from the (negotiations with the) Likud. And beyond this, (Netanyahu) would always say to me, in order to convince me, that ‘only I can cancel the Kamenitz Law, only I can recognize the communities in the Negev, only I can take responsibility,” Abbas said.
Canceling the so-called Kamenitz Law, passed by the Knesset in 2017, has been a major demand of Arab parties in recent years, who claim it is designed to stifle Arab building.
The law strengthened the state’s ability to tackle illegal construction, creating additional tools for enforcement of the Building and Planning Code. This package of improvements, officially titled Amendment 116, included stiffer sanctions against building infractions and made it easier for inspectors to issue stop-work and demolition orders.
Revising the law could benefit Arab Israeli towns where illegal construction is rife. Officials in those municipalities assert that the reason for much of the illegal construction is the government’s refusal to grant sufficient building permits.
Netanyahu tried on several occasions to negotiate a deal with Ra’am as he sought to put together a coalition after deadlocked elections, but was vetoed by his far-right partners.
Abbas’s comments come as the opposition has stepped up its campaign against the government.
Thousands of right-wing activists and Likud supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Tuesday against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government as the deadline to pass a budget and shore up the coalition approaches.
The rally, organized by Netanyahu’s Likud party, included appearances by party lawmakers Tzahi Hanegbi, Miri Regev and Amir Ohana, as well as Religious Zionism MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Holding signs that read “You don’t have a mandate to erase the Jewish state,” “A Jewish government for a Jewish state,” and “Bennett/Shaked betrayal is a crime,” the protesters in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square called to topple the government and return Netanyahu to power.
Likud MK Fateen Mulla told the crowd that Abbas and the Ra’am party was “taking money and killing our soldiers,” Haaretz reported.
The rally appeared to be the largest protest to date staged by the right-wing opposition against the government.
The government has until November 14 to pass a much-delayed 2021 budget. If it fails to do so, the coalition will automatically be dissolved and new elections will be triggered.
Marathon debates on approving a state budget began Tuesday in the Knesset and were expected to continue through the night and the following day as the government aimed to break a 3.5-year spell during which no national budget was passed.
The debates marked the first time that a government has presented a state budget for final approval in parliament since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a plan to the Knesset.
Voting on the budget will begin late Wednesday. A final vote on the budget is not expected to be held until Thursday night or Friday morning. The prolonged voting process is due to hundreds of preliminary votes on specific objections lawmakers can raise on the budget and the accompanying Arrangements Bill, which contains the details of how the financial plan will be put into practice. Both bills must be passed before a November 14 deadline.
Failure to pass the legislation will automatically trigger fresh elections, which would be Israel’s fifth in three years.
The last time an Israeli government managed to pass a budget was in March 2018. Failure to approve the budget was what brought down the previous government late last year.
The budget bill for 2021 passed its first reading in September by a 59-54 vote, with the 2022 budget getting the go-ahead with a vote of 59 to 53.
Heading to a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow on Sunday, Bennett was confident the budget would pass despite “desperate” attempts by the opposition to prevent its passage and effectively topple the government.
The diverse composition of the government — made up of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties — has been complicating the effort to pass a budget, with the opposition of a single lawmaker theoretically able to bring down the wafer-thin coalition.
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli said he will vote against the budget, and the party’s Yomtob Kalfon said he and other lawmakers had been approached with offers to defect to the opposition.