"The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate Arab society into it," Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra'am (United Arab List) party in the Knesset, said at the "Globes" Israel Business Conference yesterday, in conversation with Channel 12 News commentator and Nas Radio director Mohammad Magadli. It was Ra'am's support that enabled Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid to form a government after three inconclusive elections.
"There is no doubt that we are on the verge of a new era, and I say this cautiously and hope that the process will succeed and that the partnership at the coalition level will set a trend for further partnerships in the economy, in industry, and more," Abbas said.
"We are at the beginning of the partnership," he added, "but I believe in it. You can't wait for change without creating a new reality. We always demanded change without moving forward. Instead of waiting for it to happen before there would be a partnership, Ra'am came along and said 'Let's form a partnership that will bring the change.'"
Magadli: With hand on heart, are you content?
"I'm content with the process itself that we started. We're on the inside, and now we have to play the game and find solutions to the problems that we meet, and deal with them one way or another."
There are those who say that you're not receiving what you were promised.
"I respect my colleagues in Ra'am highly and there may be differences between us, but we're in one process and believe in this course, and also we shouldn't look at the half-empty cup but at what we have achieved so far. The minister of finance sat with us and a month ago we not only passed the state budget easily but we also passed the NIS 30 billion five-year plan, the crime elimination program, the transport plan. The challenge now is how to find the resources in these plans in various areas."
The conference title is 'Israel at 100'. Will you be a formative event in Israeli history, or something marginal?
"I decided to participate in this conference, and this title takes us forward and exposes us to the future and asks where we want to see ourselves. I look back very little. And so it's also hard for me to look at the past of the future. I look to see how to build the future, and then at a certain point you become a partner in creating it."
"I understand the fears and the questions"
I asked you why you don’t break up the government, and you told me that "if I do that, then I close the door on Israel's Arab citizens." And so I ask you - will this new approach succeed?
"It depends on us and on our partners, what we do to allow the process to succeed. I'm carrying on in order to maintain the hope and preserve the achievements for Arab and Israeli society. I want to maintain the hope for Arab society, and we'll achieve our goals of full social equality and a society that is prosperous and a partner in decision making. I also want the Israeli public to have faith in the process."
What is the Jewish citizen's main fear?
"People come up to me and ask questions, mostly from the opposition stream, and of course they have questions to raise. I don't come from the communists, I come from the Islamic movement and I crossed this distance, and so I understand the fears and the questions, but there's no way of building trust without going step by step."
Israel is a state without a constitution and without borders, but it's a Jewish state. Can you accept that as an Arab?
"The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That's the people's decision and the question is not about the identity of the state. It was born that way and that's how it will remain."
No Arab member of Knesset has ever said that.
"I was at a demonstration against the Nation State Law, and I don't want to mislead anyone. The question is, what is the status of an Arab citizen in the Jewish State of Israel? That's the question. And so the challenge now is not just for Mansour Abbas, but for the Jewish public and the Jewish citizen.
"We have to decide whether we want to engage in campaigns that have a chance of succeeding, and then we'll be able to develop as a society and prosper, and be a section of society with influence, or whether we want to be in an isolationist position and continue to talk about all these things for another hundred years."
In other words, your saying that the struggle over identity is a lost cause from the start?
"A campaign has to be waged over the status of Arab society as a collective in the state as it was born."
Look at the crises within the coalition.
"Make a comparison and see how we are conducting ourselves and how others have behaved in the past. When I was elected to the Knesset, I thought two things: First, what can I learn from my predecessors and how can I start from a higher point, and secondly, I thought what can be done differently that they didn't do that will bring about change? It didn’t take long before I realized that I hadn't found my place either in the coalition or in the opposition. In a Knesset committee session I was asked what I was, and I said, 'I'm independent, neither right nor left.' I thought it was worth trying another approach and another process."
You're criticized for not talking about diplomatic matters. You met the king of Jordan. What's your vision, and what's the solution?
"If we're talking about the future, then this is the time to say that it's impossible to talk about the future without looking at what's near at hand and at the challenges that I have to deal with in order to advance peace. Israeli society suffers from pressing problems, and we have 144,000 citizens who do not receive basic services from the state. And so the fact that I decided to focus today on advancing matters that affect Arab society doesn't mean that I have abandoned the discussion about peace. I want to be behind this process, and we'll achieve genuine peace."
How do we reach a solution?
"If I were in their positions, I would do things. If I were in the prime minister's position, I would recognize the State of Palestine. If I were chairman of the Palestinian Authority, I would declare that I demand a halt to all violent activity, and unite the West Bank and Gaza and call for negotiations. These two steps would certainly lead to greater trust and to progress towards a process in which a Palestinian state would arise here alongside the state of Israel, in line with the vision in which I believe. To live together in partnership and equality and tolerance."
You speak of trust, and I recall that Bennett had a request of you. Would you reveal it?
"Bennett and I didn’t know each other, and so it was important from the start to lay correct and strong foundations. It's not easy, and each one has to place trust in the other. He and I are taking risks, including on the personal level. He asked me not to spring surprises, because we were entering on a process in which we had no experience."
And have you kept to that?
"Yes, not to surprise Naftali Bennett. Politicians even ask me to reveal what went on with Netanyahu. I won’t do that, because there has to be trust."
You travel to see Rabbi Druckman, and three people from Likud and Netanyahu join in a conference call. What did you talk about?
"I won’t give details. There was such a call, but I want to build trust and so I won’t reveal things, even if they serve my interests."
What sort of Rabbi Druckman did you find?
"There's always a difference between how you imagine other people and what you find in a closed room, even when there's disagreement. We miss out on a great deal when each one becomes entrenched and there's no contact, so I think that we have to cross the boundary and sit and talk and feel the other."
The Israel Business Conference is in cooperation with Bank Hapoalim, and is sponsored by the OR Movement, The Phoenix Holdings, Profimex, Amdocs, Strauss, Azorim, Hot, and Super-Pharm, with participation from Mekorot, Israel Electric Corporation, the Port of Ashdod, the Tel Aviv Municipality, and the Israel Innovation Authority.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 22, 2021.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.