Last week, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin that he had formed a coalition government to replace the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the aftermath of the fourth inconclusive General Election in just over two years. Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
The new coalition is the strangest in Israel’s history, not only because it includes politicians from the far right to the far left, but also because it includes a party of Palestinian citizens of Israel, the United Arab List — Ra’am — headed by Mansour Abbas. If the coalition is approved by the Knesset (parliament), this will be the first time that Palestinian Arab MKs are part of an Israeli government. Naftali Bennet, the head of the far-right Yamina party, will be the first prime minister of the proposed coalition government, which will consist of eight parties, including Ra’am.
“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serve the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society,” said Mansour Abbas following his agreement to join the coalition. The “burning issues” to be resolved are “planning, the housing crisis and, of course, fighting violence and organised crime [among Palestinians in Israel].”
I am sure that Abbas knows very well that the pledges he has received to solve these issues are unlikely to be fulfilled. “Our red lines are our rights, whether national or civilian rights,” he said during the election campaign in March. “We may not be able to achieve them all, but we will not abandon them.” I doubt that he will be able to achieve any of them.
Amazingly, the naive Ra’am leader campaigned on the ticket of backing Netanyahu, who is responsible for killing, wounding, and detaining thousands of Palestinians, and causing untold suffering to them. On occasions, the Likud leader has openly incited people against Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The recent military offensive against Gaza might finally have opened Abbas’s eyes and pushed him to withdraw his support for Netanyahu.
Israel’s offensive against the largely civilian population of Gaza left at least 253 Palestinians dead, including 66 children, 40 women, and 16 elderly people; around 2,000 were wounded. It also damaged or destroyed 17,000 residential and commercial units, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Abbas did not go back to the people for a mandate; instead, he turned from Netanyahu to the prime minister’s protégé who is, ironically, more extreme than his mentor.
Bennet was born in California and was Netanyahu’s most reliable ally. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency defined him thus: “Former Netanyahu ally who supports many of his right-wing policies and is a long-time, staunch advocate for Israel’s West Bank settlements. Like Netanyahu, he opposes Palestinian statehood, and at times he has been to Netanyahu’s right.”
The New Yorker quoted him as vowing to do “everything in my power” to make sure Palestinians cannot establish an independent state. He also has vowed that he is ever prime minister he will immediately annex much of the West Bank. Infamously, he also boasted: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”
This is Naftali Bennett, who will head the coalition government of which Mansour Abbas will be part. There are many reasons which should make it impossible for a Palestinian citizen of Israel to be part of the government, so why is he doing this?
Abbas’s mother tongue, Arabic, has lost its status as an official language of the state, for example; and the holy places of the Palestinians in Israel are disrespected, including cemeteries and the dozens of mosques which have been turned into bars, nightclubs, and barns. Israel continues to desecrate Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem and Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied Hebron on a daily basis.
Moreover, Israel celebrates its “Independence Day”, which Palestinians remember as the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948 when ethnic cleansing took place at the hands of Zionist terror gangs. Will Abbas join the official celebrations as a government official?
More recently, Israeli and international rights groups have described the state as imposing an apartheid system on Palestinians within Israel and in the occupied territories. Can Mansour Abbas stop this campaign or protect the Palestinians in Israel from being attacked by the security forces or armed settlers? Will he even try?
Several Israeli journalists and analysts, including Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy and Meron Rapaport from +972 magazine, told me that they doubted that the pledges made to Abbas will be fulfilled. He might get something out of the deal, they added, but not much.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu said: “The idea that somehow Abbas is going to be able to muster up enough support to even introduce legislation that is going to counter some of the racist legislation that Palestinians face is a joke.”
The new Israeli government will give him what previous governments gave the Palestinians in Israel: nothing but discrimination in education, healthcare, and security budgets, evictions, and tight restrictions on building new homes or extending them. I am sure that he will not be able to stop the demolition of even a single Palestinian village in the Negev, which is his stronghold.
This bizarre government is unlikely to succeed for any length of time. When it is dissolved, Abbas will go home with empty hands, not least because he has never actually stood up for any of the Palestinian causes within Israel. He represents himself, not the people who voted for him. When he commented on the ongoing Israeli police crackdown on Palestinians in Israel, he actually criticised the people’s protests in what was seen as a hidden support for the police campaign. If he could not defend the right to freedom of protest, how can he defend other major rights?
Mansour Abbas is nothing but a naïve politician being used by opportunist Israeli MKs to help them achieve their political goal of ousting Netanyahu. Once that goal is achieved, he will be shown the door and dropped like a hot stone.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.