Wednesday, December 30, 2020

By Daled Amos

Over the past few months, we have watched as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have made peace with Israel. With the Biden administration ready to take over in a matter of weeks, we have come to the end of this historic chapter in Middle East peace.

 
But while for now, the momentum for peace has taken us as far as it can between the Arab states and Israel, there may still be a potential for the Arabs living within Israel itself.

Prof. Daniel Pipes writes that Arabs and Muslims increasingly accept Israel even as the global Left rejects it. He notes that till now, when Arab Israelis have voted in the Israeli elections, they have voted for the radical, anti-Zionist Arab parties that reject the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.

But Pipes believes that may be about to change.
Enter Mansour Abbas, 46, the head of an Islamist party, the United Arab List (also known as Ra’am), which holds four of the Knesset’s 120 seats. He hails from the Galilee town of Maghar and has a dentistry degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; currently, he is studying for a Ph.D. in politics at Haifa University. Married with three children, he practices dentistry in Maghar.
 
Mr. Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmoud Abbas, 85, head of the Palestinian Authority) has recently emerged as a deal-making politician ready to act pragmatically on behalf of Israel’s Arabs. At a time of electoral turbulence, with new elections scheduled for March 2021, he has become an instant powerbroker due to his readiness to cooperate with Benjamin Netanyahu and perhaps even to save Mr. Netanyahu’s prime ministry. [emphasis added]
photo
Mansour Abbas. Youtube screencap

 
By 'pragmatic', Pipes is referring to Abbas's willingness to cooperate with Netanyahu based on what the Israeli government can do for the Arab community. Abbas wants Netanyahu to ease legal restrictions on construction in Arab towns and to approve the necessary funds to address the problem of crime in Arab communities. Getting Netanyahu to make the necessary resources available would enable Abbas to win more seats in the next election.
 
This idea of an Arab MK working together with Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud is novel, unprecedented -- and seems to have won the approval of Arab Israelis. Pipes quotes Yousef Makladeh of the consulting company StatNet who reports that "over 60 percent of the [Israeli] Arab population supports MK Mansour Abbas’ approach, that they can work with the [Jewish] right.” 
 
If, in fact, a majority of Arab Israelis are willing to support working with the right-wing in general and with Likud and Netanyahu in particular, this obviously has implications not only for Israel, but also for Netanyahu's chances in the March election.
 
This is the same kind of pragmatism that lies behind Makladeh's finding that “a majority of the Arab public favors the peace agreements with the Gulf States."
 
“The public wants peace, it does not matter with whom, because it will bring them economic advantages,” he said. More trade with the UAE, more UAE investors coming to Israel, and Israeli companies going to the UAE, will mean more opportunities for Arab-Israelis, who will be seen as the logical middlemen. [emphasis added]
Makladeh's findings are being taken seriously because he successfully predicted both the Arab turnout and the votes for the Arab Joint List in the last election. 
 
Abbas and his party, United Arab List, are part of the Joint List, which has been opposing both the Abraham Accords--despite the fact that its own constituency approves of it--and opposing the idea of working together with Netanyahu and Likud, another idea that a majority of Arab Israelis appear to accept.
 
In addition to appearing to be on the wrong side of the Abraham Accords and working with Likud, the Joint List also focuses on the Palestinian issue in their opposition to the Abraham Accords. 
 
According to Makladeh's research, Arab Israelis are not as invested in the Palestinian issue as they once were:
“It is not that they don’t love and support them – a big part define themselves as Palestinian – but they say: ‘This is too big for us. We can’t deal with the Palestinian issue. That should be for the US, Russia and France to work out. It can’t all be on our back.’”

As a matter of fact, Abbas actually joined the Joint List in voting against the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain -- yet he explains that vote in such a way that he does not alienate Arab supporters of working with Israel:

We only voted against the deals to protest that there is no peace deal with the Palestinians. If there will be a real agreement with the Palestinians, there will be real agreements with 55 Muslim countries. But what truly matters is that we are Israelis, and our actions are not supposed to be influenced by whether there is peace with Bahrain. We are a part of Israeli society, and we want to be partners. [emphasis added]
Just try and find another member of the Joint List who talks like that.
 
It is no surprise that there is growing tension between Mansour Abbas and the other members of the Joint List, both because he is taking positions diametrically opposed to theirs and because Abbas is making a name for himself, in part at their expense. 
 
Mansour Abbas is becoming identified with the perceived potential change in the relations between Israel and the Arabs inside the Jewish state.
 
As Haviv Rettig Gur of Times of Israel puts it, "a tectonic shift, a “normalization” process more visceral and vital to Israel’s future, is already well underway closer to home."
 
I'm not afraid to say that I'm introducing a pragmatic new political style, balancing constancy and the ability to influence! I truly believe that if we are to bring real, concrete change to our society, we have to be influential in decision making--which does not mean we need to give up our fortitude, whether patriotic or religious; we just have to find a point where balance is right, to know properly our relationship with the Knesset and how we operate, and that our participation in it is not just to record positions.
Gur noted at the time that the post had over 4,300 likes and that most of the over 700 comments were positive.
 
Abbas took a further step in a TV interview with Arab Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish on the online television channel DemocratTV:
Aharish: “Let’s be specific. [Would you say:] ‘If we get a good enough offer, to be heads of committees, cabinet posts, if Netanyahu turns to us, we are capable of sitting in a government with Netanyahu.’”

Abbas: If I was a regular Arab MK who’s used to a certain discourse, I’d tell you, ‘There’s no such thing. We’d never agree to sit in Netanyahu’s government.’ But I say different. Instead of giving that answer, and then the other side can say, ‘Look, the Arabs don’t want to integrate, don’t want to participate, don’t want to have a say,’ I say, ‘Sure.’ If the prime minister or the head of another party who’s a candidate for prime minister has this attitude [i.e., is willing to have Arab parties as coalition partners], let’s have them say they’re interested in the Joint List, that they want [us] in the circle of decision-makers, and then I’ll have the opportunity to say yes or no.

Why say no before we get an offer? Why? Anyone who has the right to form a government, let him turn to us, we’ll sit, we’ll discuss, and then we’ll decide.
Gur notes, "That Mansour Abbas took great care not to rule out a coalition role for his party is as clear a signal as one could issue that he is asking to be invited in. And the possibility that it may be Netanyahu doing the inviting doesn’t faze him one bit."

His analysis of Abbas and of Arab Israelis is cautiously optimistic, based on developments both around the Middle East and in Israel as well:
As the Palestinian cause fades throughout the Arab world, it fades among Israeli Arabs as well..And the demand to integrate, to gain acceptance, to be heard in the media and in politics, to have a say in the affairs of a country they have come to accept as their own — even if they feel it has yet to accept them as its own — has overwhelmed the old ideologies.

...If Mansour Abbas’s new pragmatism is any indication, it could signal that Israel’s Arabs are increasingly thinking of themselves not in a narrowly Arab context but in a broader Israeli one, as one community among many vying for resources and attention in the broader political landscape.

Leaders sometimes strike out boldly in a new direction, hoping their flock will follow. Mansour Abbas doesn’t seem to believe that’s what’s happening. He seems to think — and despite the vituperation of some this week, he seems to be right — that the Arab Israeli community is already there, already eager for integration and influence. It’s time, he is arguing, for Israel’s Arab leaders to follow.
How this will all work out in the next election is anybody's guess, but there is an additional wrinkle that Gil Hoffman points out that there is a rule in Abbas's United Arab List that will prevent him from running for re-election:
The rule is that MKs can serve no more than three terms, and it does not matter whether that term is four years or four months. Abbas is in his third term, even though he was first elected only 19 months ago.
Come March, Abbas may very well have a new party, one that will openly oppose some of the positions of the Joint List -- which according to polls is already down from 15 to 11 seats.
 
If there really is the potential for normalization within Israel, we are likely to find out in March.


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