Opinion |

Abbas Has Expanded Israel's Boundaries in the Arab Experiment

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas last Week.
United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Apparently Jews like to think about Arabs in terms of success or failure in experiments – a terminology that has become particularly prevalent recently, in the wake of MK Nir Orbach’s cry to the members of the United Arab List (“The experiment has failed!”) following the defeat of the so-called West Bank law (which would extend the regulations that impose differential law on settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.)

Upon the formation of the current government, a Shin Bet security service source told me the following about Mansour Abbas: “Abbas will be tested in crisis, when there’s a mess on Temple Mount or in Gaza. Then we’ll see if all this talk about civilian partnership is worth anything.”

I should add that I noticed great doubt on the speaker’s behalf as to the veracity of the intentions of the leader of the Islamic Movement’s southern branch. The assessment was that when the crisis came, Abbas would “make trouble.” The array of scenarios was fairly diverse.

At the end of a full year we can say that Abbas has passed the tests the Jews have set for him with flying colors. He has survived vicious character assassination by the Bibi-ist right, which courted him and then called him a “terror supporter.” He has survived difficult dilemmas such as the Citizenship Law and the extension of the aforementioned regulations, which bring his existentially conflicted existence in the coalition to a head; He has partners who proved as foldable as a trampled Styrofoam cup at the end of a birthday party, partners who fall apart and take the coalition apart every other day.

In fact, Mansour Abbas is the toughest and most durable member of this coalition. Unlike figures such as Orbach, who do nothing but whine from sunrise to sunset, and unlike his competition, Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, who are busy blaming the Jews for blaming the Arabs for Benjamin Netanyahu’s return – Abbas operates in a different matrix.

He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t blame. He doesn’t quarrel. He speaks calmly. He has patience. He takes everything from everyone, without making a big deal about it. Abbas is a revolutionary not just in essence – membership in the coalition with anyone, including Kahanists, on the basis of civil interests – but also in form. This is why he draws respect, and the list of his Jewish admirers grows longer despite his threatening party allegiance.

This is all well and good, and may even translate into an electoral windfall that will yield him a surprisingly large number of votes from the Jewish community. But despite the typical Jewish appropriation, Abbas’ really big experiment is actually within the Arab community, and it’s not the Jews who will determine its outcome.

Do the Arabs in Israel believe in his pragmatic long-term effort to increase their power in Israeli society, or is he, to them, nothing more than an embodiment of how Jewish leftists want their Arabs: interested in infrastructure and personal security, leaving their national Palestinian identity on ice, alongside the memory of the Nakba and the dream of owning this country, all wrapped up in a Ziploc bag, easy to forget in the back of the freezer.

Is Abbas a revolutionary who foresaw the Arab community’s quiet sense of fatigue with maintaining the Palestinian national identity and harnessing resources for its upkeep, or is he nothing but a modern incarnation of Mapai’s Arab vote contractors, whose venal politicking made them a figure of ridicule to the generations that followed?
Polls have a consistent habit of missing the UAL, which has a large bloc of support among the Bedouin diaspora in the Negev, which is hardly polled.

But this time Abbas has expanded the boundaries of the experiment, and changed its geographic arena. This is the most interesting question of the impending election. Is there a critical mass of Arabs who support this man, or not.

Is Abbas a revolutionary who foresaw the Arab community’s quiet sense of fatigue with maintaining the Palestinian national identity?

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