Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met on Sunday with Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist Ra’am party has become a potential kingmaker after the fourth inconclusive election in two years.
The meeting took place at Lapid’s home in Tel Aviv and, according to public broadcaster Kan, was facilitated by Taibe Mayor Shuaa Masarwa Mansour, close to the two party leaders.
Lapid and Abbas “discussed the possibility of forming a new government. At the end of the meeting, the two sides agreed to continue talks between them in the coming days, ”Ra’am said in a statement.
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According to the Ynet news site, the leader of the Islamist party has made a number of demands for potential support, including freedom to vote on LGBT issues, the freezing of the controversial Jewish nation-state law and the Kaminitz law (legislation considered to target illegal Arab construction), as well as the recognition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.
Abbas also said there would also need to be a concrete plan to tackle crime in Arab communities, according to the report.
Ra’am later denied reports of his demands on Lapid, calling them “rumors.”
Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at Ra’am headquarters in Tamra on March 23, 2021, at the end of voting on Election Day. (Flash90)
The meeting took place a day after Ayoub Kara, an MP for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, met with Abbas. Kara told Military Radio that he had received requests from Likud to visit Abbas, but did not specify from whom.
Abbas told Nas Radio on Sunday that his party was “not more inclined to [the pro- or anti-Netanyahu] camp. We are the third camp, and we are closer to our Arab community and its interests … especially our people in the Negev, in the unrecognized villages. He underlined the rise of “violence and crime in the Arab sector” and the “social and economic difficulties of the community”.
Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out relying on Ra’am to form a government ahead of the March 23 elections, calling the party anti-Zionist. However, some Likud lawmakers have maintained a partnership with Ra’am after last week’s elections, which saw the prime minister and his right-wing religious allies once again fall short of the majority.
Ra’am’s backing could give Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc a majority if the right-wing Yamina faction also backs him up.
However, the seemingly unlikely possibility for the Islamist party to do so appeared to narrow further after Ra’am and members of the far-right religious Zionism party ruled out joining forces. An unfunded Channel 13 report on Saturday said Netanyahu will work in the coming days to try to get religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich and his far-right faction partner Itamar Ben Gvir to soften their stance towards Ra’am. .
The meeting between Lapid and Abbas came as the so-called “change bloc” in the incoming Knesset held intensive talks as it tried to create a plan for an alternative government to the one led by Netanyahu – but those efforts were marred by fights over who should lead the bloc, as well as radically different ideologies and political red lines that could doom such an effort from the start.
According to Hebrew-language media reports on Sunday, Lapid contacted the predominantly Arab joint list and is expected to hold meetings with the faction in the coming days.
On Friday, Lapid met with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman for the first time since Tuesday’s election to discuss ways to cooperate. The two have agreed to keep in touch and meet again soon, a spokesperson for Yesh Atid said.
Meanwhile, in a statement on Friday, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said he had held talks over the past two days with leaders of all non-Arab parties left and right, wished them a happy Passover. and “stressed the need to take responsible and reasoned action in order to free Israel from chaos and allow it to resume functioning properly as soon as possible.” ”
According to a Channel 12 News report on Friday night, a proposal on the table was that Lapid and Bennett run a “national healing government” for a limited period, perhaps a year, during which the two would rotate as Premier. minister. between them.
The report states that such a coalition would be a minority in the Knesset, made up of the 52 seats of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yamina, Labor, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu, externally supported – or at least not opposed – by Meretz . and predominantly Arab parties.
This government would ensure the passage of a state budget for the first time since 2018 and would aim to stabilize the country and the economy in the aftermath of political chaos and the coronavirus pandemic, before a new election is called.
The proposal also suggests that once such a government is formed, it will seek to bring in the ultra-Orthodox parties that currently remain staunchly in Netanyahu’s camp – apparently assuming that the loyalty of Haredi lawmakers to the prime minister will be. put to the test once he and they will no longer lead the government.
However, the report notes that such a plan forces parties to overcome many hurdles, some of them potentially insurmountable – primarily the need for the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties to agree to form a government with support. tacit Arabs, non-Zionist parties, a gesture that could be political suicide for the leaders of these parties within their right-wing base.
New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar and Bennett de Yamina met at the latter’s home to discuss potential cooperation, Channel 12 reported. Saar has vowed not to join a government led by Netanyahu, while Bennett did not, but he is widely seen as preferring not to ally with the prime minister.
The report states that Saar made it clear to Bennett that he would not be fighting him for the leadership of the “change bloc”.
Bennett’s associates told Channel 13 on Friday that there was no chance he would abandon Netanyahu’s bloc unless he was prime minister of the new government, not Lapid. But the network also said that Lapid is currently seeking a majority of party leaders’ votes when they surrender to give President Reuven Rivlin their recommendations on April 5, and be the first to have the chance to form a government. .
Meanwhile, the network said Netanyahu, despite winning just 59 seats for his supporter bloc (if Bennett’s Yamina party is included in the tally), is pushing hard to woo the former member of Likud Saar and win the majority. Through emissaries, the prime minister has offered his longtime rival a deal whereby he will step down after another year in power and hand him over as prime minister.
Sa’ar, noting the similarity to Netanyahu’s 2020 power-sharing deal with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, whom Netanyahu avoided honoring, reportedly replied wryly: “Only tell him on condition that Deri is a guarantor. . ”
Home Secretary Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, reportedly swore to Gantz that he would ensure Netanyahu honor their coalition deal, only to renege on that promise.