Pioneering Arabs shake Israeli politics

Tel Aviv, Israel (AP) — Mansour Abbas broke a long-standing taboo when he led the Arab Party to the Israeli coalition government last year. The bold move seems to be paying dividends.

A once-unknown politician, Abbas is the cornerstone of an unstable union, securing large budgets and favorable policies for his members, and even gaining an audience in the King of Jordan.

“We are the first Israeli state to be a much equal partner who is part of the coalition,” Abbas recently told the Israeli news site Ynet. “We are compromising to solve the problems of Arab society.”

Abbas’s practical approach has secured funding for the fight against housing, electricity and crime in Israel’s traditionally neglected Arab sector. He was also not afraid to confront his partner to get what he needed.

But he is also forced to perform a delicate balance between the desires of his Arab voters and his Jewish coalition partner. All his moves are monitored by his members, and if he does not make a long-term change, the country’s investment in democracy can diminish.

Nazleen Hadad Hajj Yahya, director of the Israel Arab Association program at the Israeli Democracy Institute, a think tank in Jerusalem, said: “The question is, does this political power lead to the behavior that citizens feel in their daily lives?”

Abbas made history last June when his little Islamic party became the first Arab faction to join the Israeli coalition. Throughout Israel’s 73-year history, Arab parties remained opposition, blaming the government and not wanting to be involved in policies against Palestinian compatriots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their Jewish counterparts often see them as potential security threats and internal enemies.

Palestinian citizens of Israel make up one-fifth of Israel’s 9.4 million people. Although many are integrated into Israeli society, the community is generally poorer and less educated than Jews and has long faced discrimination and doubts about their loyalty. Arab turnout is usually lower than Jewish and reached the bottom of last year’s elections.

The coalition of 61 members from Israel’s 120-seat Knesset now relies on four members of Abbas to pass the bill, approve the budget, and raise the government.

47-year-old Abbas leads the Ram Party, a moderate and conservative Islamic Party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The members of Ra’am are mainly Bedouin Arabs and one of the poorest citizens of the country.

An educated dentist, Abbas has been leading Ram in the Knesset since 2019 and has been a member of various parliamentary commissions, but is rarely registered in Israel’s mainstream politics.

When Israel held four elections in two years and fell into a protracted political turmoil, Abbas emerged as an antidote to the turmoil.

Prior to the March 2021 elections, Abbas separated Ram from the Arab coalition, implying that no matter who led the faction, the faction would join the coalition under the right conditions.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly held an unprecedented meeting with Abbas on joining forces and promised him a list of policies to address the crime and housing problems prevailing in Arab society. However, Netanyahu’s ultranational allies opposed cooperation with Abbas, and negotiations collapsed.

Later, when Congressman Yale Rapid was asked to form a government, he picked up Netanyahu’s interruption, and Ram said. Current coalition.

An awkward coalition led by former West Bank pioneer leader Naftali Bennett, consisting of eight political parties, from nationalists to doves in favor of the Palestinian state, promises to set aside divisive issues. did. Instead, it focuses on subjects that do not shake the stability of the coalition, such as pandemics and the economy.

The Palestinian issue, which has traditionally been of central importance to Arab parties, has been largely ignored.

Abbas argued that he did not ignore Palestine’s long-standing desire as a nation on the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the territories Israel occupied during the 1967 Middle East War. Family ties connect Israeli Palestinian citizens with those who live in the occupied territories.

After the coalition was formed, Abbas told the podcast, “Ram wants to focus on the pressing issues of Arab society.” His office declined the request for an interview.

Ra’am has been promoting priorities from within the coalition. We aimed to secure an unprecedented billion-dollar budget for the Arab community, improve living conditions and minimize record crime rates. At Ra’am’s request, the government authorized an unrecognized Bedouin village in the southern Negev Desert and moved to connect thousands of illegally built homes to electricity.

“The Israeli government has long ignored the Negev and did not address the underlying problem,” said Faiz Abu Sahiban, Mayor of Bedouin and supporter of Abbas. “This is the first time Israel has heard from Bedouin.”

Diverse opinions inevitably clashed. last week, Abbas threatened to withhold party voting in parliament in protest of tree planting A crisis in which a forestry project was suspended on a land claimed by Bedouin in the Negev. Ra’am also backed up efforts by elements of the Nationalist Union to extend the law to prevent Palestinians marrying Israeli citizens from acquiring residence rights.

Abbas is repeatedly referred to as a terrorist sympathizer by opposition ultra-nationalist lawmakers. Socially conservative, he is also openly opposed to the pro-LGBT bill in a coalition with gay ministers.

He also faces criticism from Palestinian citizens of Israel. Recently, when he recognized Israel as a Jewish state at a business meeting, he caused a turmoil in the Arab people.

Right-wing Israeli leaders repeatedly called on Palestinians to recognize the Jewish character of Israel, and the mainly Jewish audience applauded their remarks.

However, Arab critics, including the Palestinian leadership on the west bank of the Jordan River, have accused Abbas of abandoning the Palestinian cause.

“They (Ram) are responsible for all decisions made by the government, including the budget for the West Bank reconciliation,” said veteran Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi last month.

Nevertheless, Abbas’ entry into the coalition followed years of Arab public opinion in favor of greater Arab participation in decision-making. His failures and achievements could help determine future Arab political involvement.

Mohammad Magadli, political analyst for Nas Radio and Israeli Channel 12TV in Arabic, said:

“It will mean that Israel will become a true democracy.”