The head of a conservative Islamic party that has emerged as a kingmaker after Israel’s recent incomplete elections demanded change on Thursday without supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his rivals.
Mansour Abbas’ prime-time speech was given live by several Israeli broadcasters, underlining his crucial role in determining whether a stable governing coalition is possible after last week’s election.
The vote, Israel’s fourth in two years, gave the veteran Prime Minister Likud 30 seats in parliament with 120 seats, making it the largest party – but a majority of 61 is needed to form a government.
“It is time to create a different reality for all the citizens of the land,” Abbas, an Arab Israeli, said in Hebrew in Nazareth in northern Israel.
After last week’s vote, Abbas said he was open to negotiating with the pro-Netanyahu camp and with the ideologically divided party group that wanted to remove the veteran prime minister.
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On Thursday, Abbas quoted the Koran as saying he was “a proud Arab and Muslim,” unsurpassed remarks by a leader tasked with playing the band in Israeli coalition politics.
Abbas, 46, leads the Raam party, which won four seats in Israel’s vote on March 23.
Raam ran as part of an alliance of Arab parties in previous elections, but before the last vote, Abbas broke off due to differences with the other factions.
No Arab party has ever served in a governing coalition, and the last time an Arab faction supported a coalition was in the 1990s.
“Part of the game”
On Thursday, Abbas listed crime, racism and poverty as challenges for Arab Israelis, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population of 9.3 million.
“I do not want to be part of a block to the right or left,” he said.
“I am here for another bloc, the bloc that chose me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to change the demands of the Arab public – which for years were just demands – into a real work plan.”
Political analyst Afif Abu Much said Abbas seemed to be aiming for a paradigm shift in Israel.
“This speech is aimed at the Jewish people to tell them, ‘We want to be a part of the game,'” Abu Much told AFP.
He said Abbas had a rare moment of influence because ultra-Orthodox parties, which usually act as power brokers, adapted early to the ruling Likud.
Even with the support of Abbas, Netanyahu will fight to form a coalition.
Betzalel Smotrich, whose hard-line religious Zionist alliance is an important part of Netanyahu’s camp, wrote last week on Facebook that “a right-wing government based on Mansur Abbas Raam will not happen. Not from within, not from without ”.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu urged his former right-wing allies Naftali Bennett and Gideon Saar to “come back home” after the two ran their own lists in the last election. Saar has ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, while Bennett has not yet declared his loyalty.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he would convene party leaders next week for talks before choosing the candidate who has the best chance of forming a coalition on Wednesday.
When Rivlin begins his meetings on Monday, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, will be put on trial for his ongoing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrong.