After being courted by both sides, Islamist ‘kingmaker’ backed no one

Party head Mansour Abbas says his faction ‘will come with a positive attitude to any candidate’ the president tasks with forming a coalition.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

After being courted by both left- and right-wing politicians since saying he would consider supporting any coalition that would help the Arab sector, Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas ended up not backing anyone as possible head of state to the president, who selected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

“Ra’am is neither on the Left nor the Right, so we have no recommendation for a specific person,” Abbas said when it was his party’s turn to speak to President Reuven Rivlin, who is responsible for handing the task of forming a coalition to the Knesset member he feels has the best chance at doing so.

“We tried to prevent the fourth election, we will try to prevent the fifth election,” Abbas added. “Therefore as a matter of principle, we will come with a positive attitude to any candidate whom [the president] will entrust to create a government.”

Having received four Knesset seats in the March elections, his faction was seen as the potential kingmaker by both the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs. Sources close to Abbas told Israel Hayom that “intense negotiations” had gone on with Likud officials regarding Ra’am’s demands. Some of the conditions, such as making concrete plans to fight violence and organized crime in Arab communities, and rejecting pro-LGBTQ laws, are already part of the government’s agenda.

Read  Levin negotiating with Arab party leader for support over judicial reform - report

The talks were then seen as unlikely to bear fruit when junior coalition partner Religious Zionist Party head Betzalel Smotrich, vetoed the idea of forming a government even supported from the outside by the anti-Zionist Islamic party.

Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party leads the so-called “change” bloc with 17 seats, also talked with Abbas to urge him to join forces against the prime minister. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White party sat with Netanyahu for a year in a unity government, tweeted a warning to Abbas after their own meeting.

“Bibi is using you,” he wrote, using Netanyahu’s nickname. Speaking from his own experience, he said that once a government is sworn in, “he will renege on all commitments he gave you, he will dismantle every letter in the coalition agreement.”

While some of Ra’am’s purported conditions could be acceptable to the left, the anti-Netanyahu bloc also contains those on the ideological right, such as the New Hope and Israel Beiteinu parties. It is difficult to see them agreeing to modify the Nation-State Law, scrap the Kaminitz Law against illegal construction, which is rampant in the Arab sector, or give blanket recognition to illegitimate Bedouin villages in the Negev.

Ra’am was not the only party to refuse to recommend anyone to the president. The other Arab party, the Joint List, kept mum, as did New Hope, whose leader, Gidon Sa’ar, asked for more time and Rivlin’s help in promoting an anti-Netanyahu coalition, but was rebuffed.

Read  Levin negotiating with Arab party leader for support over judicial reform - report

Since Yemina nominated its own head, Naftali Bennett, for the task, this left Lapid with only 34 MKs supporting his bid. Netanyahu received 52 recommendations, leading Rivlin on Tuesday to give the longtime prime minister the first chance to form a new government.