Islamist Party Leader Turned Israeli Kingmaker Offers Olive Branch in Speech
A key Israeli Arab politician offered the country’s majority Jews an olive branch on Thursday, in what appeared to be a bid to offset ultranationalist misgivings at accommodating him as part of a new coalition under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List (UAL), known in Hebrew as the Ra’am party, took four of parliament’s 120 seats in last week’s inconclusive Israeli election, making its support potentially crucial for the conservative Netanyahu to secure a stable governing majority.
Jewish right-wing and religious parties with allegiance to Netanyahu have given the prime minister 52 seats, while a kindred six-seat party opposed to his leadership has spurned him and another, with seven seats, so far has been noncomittal.
There has been recoil across the rightist spectrum at the idea of working with Ra’am, an Islamist party with pro-Palestinian leanings — even if it were to remain outside government but abstain from opposition no-confidence motions.
“I extend a hand to create an opportunity for life together in this land that is holy and blessed for the children of the three faiths and two peoples,” Mansour said in speech delivered mostly in Hebrew and aired live on Israel’s primetime TV news.
“I have not ruled anything out,” Abbas said, signaling openness to recommending either Netanyahu or the premier’s centrist rival, Yair Lapid, for top office when coalition consultations begin next week. Lapid could now wield as many as 57 seats.
Reiterating Ra’am demands to improve conditions for Israel’s 21% Arab minority, Abbas said: “We do not have to agree on everything, and of course we will disagree on quite a few issues … My approach is what merits ‘yes’ and less what ‘no’.”
Netanyahu has not commented publicly on any prospective outreach to Ra’am. On Wednesday, he called on his two rival rightist parties to “come back home” and join him.