Ra’am party leader promises to support new government, vows to ‘return’ lands to his people

Mansour Abbas skillfully navigates Israel’s political divide, secures billions for Negev Bedouin communities

By Howard M. Riell, World Israel News

United Arab List (Ra’am) party chairman Mansour Abbas told a special session of the Knesset Sunday that he will support the new national unity government led by Naftali Bennett (Yemina) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) – but he also plans to “return the lands which were appropriated from our people,” adding, “This is a national act of the highest order.”

Abbas also denied charges that the incoming government had “sold out” the Negev by recognizing illegal Bedouin settlements. “No one sold out the Negev,” he insisted. “It will remain a part of the State of Israel. Our vision is to live in peace, equality, and cooperation.”

Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionist Party, immediately went after Abbas for his Knesset comments Sunday.

“So Abbas is once again putting on a spectacular show of hypocrisy, with a nationalistic speech in Arabic in which he says the truth; a speech full of soothing words in Hebrew intended for Jewish listeners who are blind and deaf, especially those who make themselves so,” he said.

Conservative Islamist Ra’am, the first Arab party in 50 years to become part of an Israeli coalition government, takes its place under a surprisingly wide tent. Its members include parties spanning Israel’s political spectrum from left to right. The goal that unites them has been to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The canny Abbas has taken advantage of the political divide to secure a variety of benefits for his Arab supporters.

“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serves the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society — planning, the housing crisis, and of course, fighting violence and organized crime,” he said earlier this month.

In all, an estimated NIS 53 billion, or $16.3 billion, is expected to flow to traditional Bedouin communities in the Negev desert.