Likud Member of Knesset David "Dudi" Amsalem said on Sunday that if the Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition will form Israel's next government, it won't rule out the party of Arab-Israeli leader Mansour Abbas as a member of its ruling coalition, in sharp contrast to Netanyahu's recent statements rejecting any partnership with Abbas' United Arab List.
Amsalem's statement, in an interview on Israeli Channel 12, came as a surprise, since Likud has spent the past year harshly attacking prime minister Naftali Bennett for including UAL in his ruling coalition. Likud MKs accused Bennett's government of being 'dependent on terror supporters' and even of cooperating with Hamas, despite the fact that the militant Palestinian group has attacked Abbas for his participation in the government.
In the interview on Sunday, Amsalem said that if Likud and the religious parties that are aligned with it will win a majority of 61 seats in Israel's upcoming election, Abbas could then join their coalition. "Of course, non-Zionist parties can't join the government if we don't have 61 seats," he said, but "If Mansour Abbas wants to join us after we have 61, ahlan wasahlan," using the Arabic phrase for 'welcome'.
Israel's most recent public opinion polls indicate that neither Netanyahu nor his opponents will have the necessary number of seats to form a majority government without UAL.
"Jews cannot rely on an anti-Zionist party," Amsalem explained, "a government should be majority Zionist." But, he added, "we've never had a problem collaborating with Arab parties on civilian issues."
Amsalem's quote came just days after Netanyahu promised, as Israel was heading into new elections, that he will 'never' invite Abbas' party to his government. Netanyahu and other members of his party spent the past year blasting Bennett for being the first Israeli prime minister in decades to include an Arab party in his coalition. After Amsalem made his statements on Abbas, members of Bennett's party went on the attack, calling out Likud and Netanyahu for hypocrisy.
An hour after Amsalem made his comments on live television, Netanyahu reacted with a series of tweets distancing himself from the statement. He wrote that he "was shocked to hear the things Dudi Amsalem said, which speak to his opinion alone."
"The United Arab List is an anti-Zionist and antisemitic party, an advocate of terror representing the Muslim Brotherhood – who seek to destroy Israel," Netanyahu said, adding that "The Likud, under my leadership, would never agree to allow the United Arab List to join any coalition."
- First election poll favors Netanyahu, but neither bloc gets majority
- Bennett in final interviews: 'The opposition is ready to burn the state'
- 'Left' and 'right' keeps Israeli politics from working together
"This is what the upcoming election is about," Netanyahu said.
On Galey Israel radio, Amsalem said he was "dumbfounded" by Netanyahu's response. First of all, he said, Netanyahu should have spoken to him directly: "Write to me 'I don't accept this,' call me, ask me what's going on," he said. "Second off, to say 'I don't agree, this is Amsalem's opinion,' is fine. This isn't the first time."
In a jubilant video released on social media following last week's decision to dissolve the Knesset, Netanyahu said "I will not sit [in a government] with Mansour Abbas, and I did not sit with Mansour Abbas"