Arab lawmaker: Iran not a strategic threat, peace process dependent on Palestinian democracy

Mansour Abbas also said the main purpose of his party’s presence in the coalition was to rebuild the trust between the Arab sector and the government.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas downplayed the threat Iran posed to Israel during a live interview in a cultural event Saturday in Beersheba, which covered a wide range of issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

When asked directly about the external dangers Israel faces, and about Iran specifically, he answered, “I cannot describe the Iranian threat as an existential threat to Israel. There is certainly a threat, but we’ll leave that to the professionals.”

Both the current government and the Netanyahu governments that preceded it for twelve years have characterized Iran as the single largest strategic threat that Israel faces, as it steadily made progress toward developing nuclear weapons over the past two decades.

Abbas was also asked his opinion on how the coalition is handling Hamas, considering that, as the interviewer pointed out, there is a need for military operations rather often to quell its rocket launchings and other terrorist acts against Israeli citizens. He replied that this government survived May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, and “is managing to navigate in this area in a way that brings calm instead of escalation.” He refused to speculate on what Ra’am would do in case a major eruption occurs.

His “vision,” as he called it, was one of peaceful relations between all Palestinian factions and Israel.

“Everyone prays for peace,” he said, and the government is still “learning the political issue and is trying to come up with an answer to this challenge. You can’t bury your head in the sand for another several decades. At the end of the day, it is our fate to live together. Neither the Jews nor the Palestinians are going to disappear from the Holy Land.”

“The vision must be clear to everyone and unequivocal to live together in peace and security, with cooperation and tolerance.”

When the interviewer suggested that as an Arab, Islamist party, Ra’am could be a “bridge” to Hamas, Abbas shifted in his chair and said, “We live in a very complicated reality,” and then suggested that a prisoner swap in exchange for calm was a way of building trust between the two sides.

Perhaps surprisingly, he added that a necessary condition for progress towards overall peace with Israel was for the Palestinian Authority to become a democracy, respect human rights, regain de facto control over the Gaza Strip and hold elections, referring to the adage that “democracies don’t go to war against each other.”

Abbas expressed the hope that “all the Palestinian factions will begin to look differently at the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict and understand that there is an opportunity now to create something new.” He believed that Raam’s success in its endeavors in Israeli civil society “will also [positively] influence consequences on the Palestinian-Israeli relationship.”

Abbas said he turned down an offer to become a minister, because he “felt the country was not ready for this.” Ra’am had already taken “the next step” for Arabs, from being elected to local government to being members in the Knesset, to joining the coalition, he said. “I don’t reject the possibility for the future,” he added.

Abbas returned again and again to the theme that Ra’am’s purpose in the government was trust-building. This included between the political factions of the coalition, which he said were “beginning to develop,” between Arab and Jewish sectors of society in general, and between Arab society and the government, especially the law enforcement agencies.

“You can’t establish a society today, and a normal life, without the help of the police,” he said. “You can’t have life without law and order.”

A major part of Ra’am’s price for joining the government was a huge increase in funding for the Arab sector, in order to raise the standard of living and deal with a major crime wave within its society that all Israeli Arabs agree has gotten completely out of hand.