JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In an historic speech last week, United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas called for harmonious cooperation between the state of Israel and its Arab citizens. Abbas, who could in theory enable Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government, said that he is a proud Israeli citizen who is also a proud Arab and believes that the time has come for Arab citizens to live in harmony with Jews on the basis of dignity and equal rights.
Speaking surrounded by the party’s green flags, Abbas, who spoke in Hebrew, quoted verses from the Quran calling for the creation of “an opportunity for a shared life, in the holy and blessed land for the followers of the three religions and both peoples” and told his audience that “Now is the time for change.”
Abbas has also in the past stated that he will not deal with the Palestinian narrative but rather with improving the lot of Arab Israelis.
Abbas’s speech led to varied responses. On the left and center Abbas was welcomed, as they would require his support to have any chance of forming a government. Even Yemina head Naftali Bennett has not ruled out such a coalition with Abbas. However on the right Abbas was villified as a hypocrite, since his speeches in Arabic do not speak of conciliation but of achieving the goals of the Islamic movement, of which he is an active member. Religious Zionism leader Betzalel Smotrich and other members of his party refused even to consider cooperation with Abbas, calling him an unrepentant Islamist whose goal is to weaken Israel from within until it is superseded by Palestinians.
The truth, however is more complicated, as explained by Dr. Nesya Shemer, an associate professor at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar Ilan University. Shemer says that Abbas’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdallah Nimr. Darwish, maintained a moderate approach to Israel and this led to the split between the Northern faction of the Islamic movement, which was militantly anti-Israel (and has since been outlawed) and the Southern faction which wishes to achieve its Islamic aspirations -a religious Muslim society – peacefully within Israel. Those aspirations are religious and not necessarily nationalistic, although the two are not necessarily independent.
The Chareidi parties have not expressed any objection to including Abbas within the government. This is not so surprising since Chareidim and religious Arabs have cooperated in the past on many occasions on religious issues, since both have conservative views and are minorities within Israeli society. However Rabbi Chaim Kanievski issued an unusual endorsement of such a government, stating according to sources close to him that it would be easier to work with Arabs than with left-wing politicians.
Tzfat chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu also expressed willingness to cooperate with Abbas, but reminded him of the situation in Israel. “It’s time to stop the wars. We could fight for another hundred years, but you have to recognize that G-d has done this for us, whoever fights with us is fighting Him. You see that the people of Israel are growing stronger and succeeding. This is what G-d said would happen, Israel will be strong and will bring blessing to all living in its borders. G-d made a covenant with Abraham, with Moshe, that He will give us this land. Whoever goes against Him will not succeed.”