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Once Hailed as Israel’s Arab Kingmaker, Mansour Abbas Is Now on the Brink

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shakes hands with Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, in June.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shakes hands with Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, in June.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Anyone who speaks with the chairman of the United Arab List these days – and it’s not easy to speak with Mansour Abbas, because the party adopted an especially miserly media policy – hears a man on the brink. We can’t go on any longer – the members of the coalition have already received what they wanted, they are ministers, they have ministries, we have not yet received anything. If we don’t get too, we won’t vote for the state budget in the final votes; and yes, I understand that the government will fall and we’ll have another election.

They say in the UAL that already a month ago, the order was given to get ready for an election. Is it possible that all this is just the sound of “Hold onto me or I’ll jump?” Of course. Is it possible that UAL only wants to improve its negotiating position against the Finance Ministry before the final votes on the budget in early November? Without a doubt. But in the same breath the frustration in the UAL is enormous.

If we were in a government with extreme rightist Bezalel Smotrich and Benjamin Netanyahu, it wouldn’t have happened, a senior party official told me. They simply don’t understand what we are facing; they are always trying to preserve the connection with the Joint List, and the Knesset members of the center-left are fantasizing about the voters of the Arab community, so for the very few achievements there are for now, Meretz’s Esawi Freige and his colleagues have made sure to announce that the UAL had no part in the accomplishment.

How can it be? After all, “they and them” – in other words, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar – understand that their political existence depends on Mansour Abbas, so how can they not worry 24/7 that he’s not happy? And they are. Lieberman knows the problems and says he is “on it,” Bennett intervenes, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev was proud that all the first trips he made were only to the Arab community.

The thing is that a 100 percent effort will not satisfy Abbas in the face of the huge opposition to his moves. He needs results. And results in politics is a complicated matter. Quite a few politicians learned the hard way that the voters sent them to power with a certain mandate, and they supposedly fulfilled it – only to discover that in the next election the voters were already interested in something else, and that past results were a pretty weak hand.

Ex-wonder boy Moshe Kahlon can give a lecture on this, Netanyahu also felt it in 1999 when the public forgot that during his term, suicide terror bombings dropped significantly – after he rose to power based on the hope he would end them. In other words, even if during the Bennett-Lapid government the number of murders in the Arab community drops in an amazing way from 100 to about “only” 50 a year, there is no certainty that Abbas will be rewarded for it at the ballot box. People point to the hatred for the present more than the gratefulness for the past. Even more so than if there are no results, and in the meantime the number of murders in the Arab community is only rising.

The Bennett-Lapid government has two real purposes. The better known is replacing Netanyahu. The other: that the attempt to bring an Arab party into the coalition will succeed. Abbas has said recently in closed conversations that if the attempt fails, he will go home. He doesn't intend on remaining there like Joint List head Ayman Odeh and No. 2 Ahmad Tibi and give 20 speeches a year.

Abbas’ case, in my opinion, is one of those in which the singular figure made history, and not the opposite. I hope I have not been too captivated by his charms as other journalists were captured by the charms of maverick Shlomo Lahiani in his time, but my impressions are that only Abbas was capable of bringing an Arab party into a coalition with hardline right-wingers Zeev Elkin, Sa’ar and Bennett. Odeh and Tibi do not think much differently than Abbas, but were unable to lead such a process.

If Abbas’ revolutionary attempt fails, he is not the only one who will go home. His entire camp will suffer a fall. It will be similar to what happened to the peace camp after Camp David. When the expectations reach the heavens, the crash and burn is much more dramatic. Abbas’ attempt must succeed. In this case, this is not smart politics. To spend billions on the Arab community is also justified and smart.

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