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On the Double-Sided Phenomenon of Mansour Abbas

On the Double-Sided Phenomenon of Mansour Abbas

Monday, 26 April, 2021 - 11:00

After its fourth and most recent elections, a precedent was set in the Jewish state; its symbol, Arab Knesset Member Mansour Abbas. This assessment is valid regardless of whether Benjamin Netanyahu manages to form a new government or Israelis head for a fifth round of elections.

Abbas has expressed his willingness to provide support and cover for a new Zionist-Right wing government headed by the Likud leader. The Financial Times did not hesitate to describe him “kingmaker” in Israel. In the Arab world, reactions oscillated between bewilderment and condemnation.

For reasons different to those that are usually put forward, the man does not deserve sympathy. However, condemning him the old way (traitor etc.…) does not convince those who understand what is happening among Arab Israelis. Indeed, the stance of four MKs whose parliamentary bloc is headed by Abbas cannot be summed up with insults and accusations of treachery. It is, once again, an old tool for understanding a new and complex state of affairs.

Abbas was born in 1974, so he does not belong to the generations that underwent the Nasserite epoch and the subsequent Palestinian resistance that excited the Palestinians of 1948. Of course, he did not live through the era that preceded it either, when many cultural or trade-union cadres revolved around Marxism and communist organizations. He woke up to public life with the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the 1993 Oslo Accords, when it seemed, albeit in principle, that peace was possible between the State of Israel, a fifth of its inhabitants, the Arabs, and the Palestinians and Arabs outside it. The dissolution of this prospect, with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and then the Second Intifada, did not reflect positively on the lives of the Arabs of 1948.

These developments were accompanied by a global shift that saw the segmental trump the compressive and the fragmentation of struggles chosen over unifying them. This shift also emphasized groups’ identities, religious and ethnic, as well as seeking their rights as members of these groups.

The other MKs were born between 1956, Mazen Ghnaim, and 1972, Said al-Harumi, and in the middle is Walid Taha, 1968. The average age, then, is 53.5 years of age. Abbas studied dentistry. Harumi studied physics. Taha studied political science. The three graduated, it goes without saying, from Israeli universities.

In contrast to the movements of Political Islam in most of the Arab world, whose stances on the conflict with Israel became increasingly radical, an integratory bent, facilitated by the cheap pragmatism that political Islam allows for, took hold of Mansour Abbas and his supporters. This was perhaps strengthened by the fact that Israeli Arabs have known nothing from the Arabs hostile to Israel but estrangement. Undoubtedly, Abbas knows that Gaza’s Hamas Movement, before it had been established as such, cooperated with the Israelis, going against the PLO, and the Mujama al-Islamy (Islamic Center) founded by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin is among the fruits of this cooperation. As for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, it cannot disregard security coordination with Israeli security. If this is permissible for those whom Israel occupies in one way or another, why would the same not apply to Israeli citizens?

Mansour Abbas and his companions split, in 1995, from the Muslim Brotherhood due to divergences on the Oslo Accords, and then the Islamic movement in Israel split into a ‘northern’ wing opposed to the agreement under Sheikh Raed Salah’s leadership and a ‘southern’ wing led by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, who supported the agreement. The former refused to work within Israeli political institutions, and this included abstaining from running for Knesset seats, while the latter, the group to which Abbas belongs, has been running in elections since 1996.

Seeking integration, then, is nothing new to this milieu, which believes that the policies of recalcitrance and isolation achieved nothing in the past and that they will not yield fruit in the future either. As for what they hope to get from integration, it is increased provision of services for Arab cities and villages, as well as snatching a bigger, more serious and less cynical state role in combating the spread of crime ravaging Arab society. “We,” as Abbas said in a recent speech, “don’t want to be on the margins, and we won’t accept to be outside the circle. Either we are full-fledged citizens with full rights, be they national, religious or civil, or other options are put on the table.”

Moreover, integration in this sense is not the problem, especially since we are halfway there de-facto. As for the other half that is hoped for, it is equality and Arab citizens receiving the rights they have been deprived of. It is, if we disregard the outdated rhetoric, a major gain.

On the other hand, the problem is that the call for integration is accompanied by a growing Israeli shift to the right and increased reluctance to grant Arabs their rights. The 2018 ‘Jewish nation-state law’ speaks to this. The four latest elections and the distribution of votes affirm it.

For these reasons, it seems that skepticism about Abbas seeking to start by integrating with the Israeli far-right is justified, especially with the religious faction that shares with him the same views on women, homosexuals and traditions. We know that turning the moral political and the political moral has long occupied Islamists and opportunists, especially when the political and moral both appear obstructed. For this reason, the anxiety triggered by Abbas’ form of integration might be no less serious than that stemming from the nihilists’ isolationism. Let us watch carefully then, regardless of what happens, with sharp eyes!

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