Gilad Atzmon writes:
At 8pm on 1 April every Israeli news channel broadcast live a televised speech delivered by the new Israeli kingmaker, Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Israeli Islamic party, Ra’am.
“Now is the time for change,” the conservative Muslim leader told his Hebrew-speaking audience, in Hebrew.
Abbas seems to be the only one who can save Binyamin Netanyahu’s political future. He knows it and uses the moment to deliver a message of reconciliation and coexistence.
“I carry a prayer of hope, and the search for coexistence based on mutual respect and genuine equality,” Abbas told his Jewish listeners. “What we have in common is greater than what divides us.”
The history of the Israeli Arab conflict reveals that it is always the Arabs who lead dramatic reconciliatory moves and it is only Israeli rightwing governments that can positively react to such moves.
Abbas isn’t the first Palestinian to advocate the idea of coexistence and possible reconciliation. In 1974, Yasser Arafat stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly offering an olive branch to Israel and its supporters. He urged his listeners, “do not let this branch fall from my hand”.
The Israeli-Arab communist party Hadash has been preaching the value of coexistence for decades. However, within the context of the vanishing Israeli left, its voice has had close to zero impact on Israeli politics.
Mansour Abbas knows that he is in a pivotal and historic position. He knows that many Israeli Arabs are behind him and he wants to turn the power they bestowed on him into substance.
“I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society.” Abbas told the Israelis, “forgetting” to mention that he is also a Palestinian.
Many Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs and peace lovers see Abbas as a traitor. I actually believe that not many Palestinian leaders have been as shrewd as him. I can assure you that a potential Netanyahu government dependent on Abbas’s support is not going to drop bombs on Gaza. It will think twice before it sends its American-made planes to attack Syria and it may even stop pushing for a war against Iran. I am actually pretty excited by the idea of a rightwing Israeli government committed to the appeasement of Mansour Abbas.
But some Israeli Jews were also upset by Abbas’s speech. Religious Zionist party leader and member of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) Bezalel Smotrich said on 2 April that his party will not sit in a government dependent on any support from Ra’am. The previous night, just after Abbas’s televised speech, Smotrich reportedly refused to communicate with Netanyahu. It is important to mention that Ra’am has also ruled out a coalition with the Religious Zionist party.
And here is the most spectacular news about Abbas and his initiative. The Orthodox Jewish parties clearly prefer bonding with a Muslim party than the Israeli identitarian left. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the senior ultra-Orthodox spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism alliance, declared on 2 April that Ra’am is more than a legitimate party. The rabbi reportedly announced that “as far as safeguarding Jewish tradition is concerned, it is better to go with the representatives of the Arab public, than with the representatives from the left”.
Those who follow the shift in the Israeli society in the last five decades have noticed that religion is a growing factor within both the shrinking Jewish majority and the growing Arab minority. In both Jewish and Arab societies it is religion that produce the answers that were left unresolved by the big ideologies, Zionism, Israeliness and the so-called “alternative left”.
I guess that if the fear of the left in its current identitarian rendition is enough to bridge the divide between Islam and Judaism, maybe identiterianism isn’t such a bad thing after all. It could certainly be a catalyst for harmony.