United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas, whose party's showing in Israel's March 23 election put him in the position of possible kingmaker, said during a press conference on Thursday that "unlike all the other politicians, I never ruled anyone out. It's time to create a different reality" in Israel.
Abbas refrained from announcing which candidate UAL intends to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin next week – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or a representative of the bloc of parties hoping to replace him. He emphasized that he "does not want to be part of any bloc on the right of left."
Abbas dedicated most of his speech on the need to create a connection between Jews and Arabs, saying "What we have in common is greater than what separates us. If we do not now learn to lower ignorance and overthrow racism, we will leave the next generation a complex, dangerous and impossible reality."
Ahead of the press conference, members of Abbas' entourage declined to share details about his speech, whether he would reveal which candidate UAL intends to recommend, or whether UAL would support a government led by Netanyahu or the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
UAL explained that there was no reason to present a final position at such an early stage. "We are very strong on the field, and have no intention to retreat quickly," a senior UAL member told Haaretz.
In response to Abbas' remarks, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the chairman of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, said the speech seeks to portray as a "'cute bear' someone who belongs to the Islamic Movement, supports Hamas, and sanctifies infant killers.
"A coalition that leans on Abbas will be the end of the right and we have no mandate to do so ... I call on all our right-wing partners to form a right-wing government together without relying on the Hamas-supporting Islamic Movement."
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UAL's four Knesset seats could give Netanyahu and his allies or the opposing bloc the necessary 61-seat majority for a governing coalition.
Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that UAL invited dozens of public figures, academics and thought leaders to a discussion on Saturday about issues the Israeli Arab community faces with the aim of establishing an advisory council and formulating a plan of action.
UAL noted that its decision to establish such an advisory body comprised of individuals who are neither members of the party or of the Islamic Movement is motivated by its desire to involve all of Arab society in the decision-making process.
One of the public figures who received UAL's invitation told Haaretz that they wondered why the party chose to convene the meeting just two days after Abbas' speech: "It means two things: that the speech will only present general items that do not require a deep public discussion or that the whole discussion and advisory [process] is for the record only and has no meaning or effect on the decision making process."
Prior to the election, Abbas refused to rule out joining a government led by Netanyahu, or supporting one from the outside. Since the election, Abbas has been courted by both sides, meeting with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid earlier this week.
Meanwhile, members of the anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties are concerned because, one of them said, they still don't see a plan for forming a government and are stuck in a holding pattern.
"Currently, two events are expected to affect negotiations: Mansour Abbas's speech [Thursday], which will let us know where he is headed … [and] the Bennett-Lapid meeting, after which we will know if it is even feasible to form a government together," said one member of the bloc.