What happened: Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List (UAL), spoke yesterday at the Globes Business Conference. He was interviewed on stage by Muhammad Majdala, from Channel 12 News.
- He was asked: “Israel is a state without a constitution and without borders, but it is a Jewish state. Can you accept that as an Arab?” Abbas answered: “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. It is the decision of the people and the question is not what the identity of the state is. It was born this way and will remain that way.”
- Abbas added: “The question is how to integrate Arab society into it … there is no doubt that we are on the threshold of a new era, and I say this cautiously and hope that the process will succeed and that the coalition-level partnership will be a trend towards more different partnerships in the industry and more.”
- He further said: “We are at the beginning of the partnership but I believe in it – it is impossible to wait for change without creating a new reality. We have always demanded to make the change without moving forward.”
- “It depends on us and our partners, what we do to let the process succeed. I continue to maintain hope and maintain achievements for both Arab and Israeli society. I want to maintain hope for Arab society, and we will achieve our goals of full social equality and a prosperous and decision-making society. I also want the Israeli public to trust the process.”
- He was also asked, “What is the main suspicion of the Jewish citizen?” Abbas responded, “I came from the Islamic movement and I crossed that distance so I understand the suspicions and questions, but there is no way to build trust without going step by step.”
- Abbas was asked about his relationship with Prime Minister Bennett, in which the UAL leader said they did not know each other before forming the current government, “so it was important from the beginning to lay the right and solid foundations. It is not easy and everyone has to trust each other. He and I take risks and on a personal level. He asked not to be surprised because we go through a process we have no experience with”.
- Abbas was also asked about the peace process. He said, if he was prime minister, that he would recognise the State of Palestine. If he were the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, “I would declare that I demand an end to all violence and unite the West Bank and Gaza and call for negotiations … to increase trust and move towards a process in which the State of Palestine will be established here next to the State of Israel in accordance with the vision I believe in. To live together in partnership and equality and tolerance.”
Context: Abbas’s comments recognising Israel as a Jewish State are significant. It challenges the traditional stance of Arab politicians who have called for a state for all its citizens.
- Abbas was interviewed in Hebrew but made similar comments in an Arabic media interview last month. Speaking to Kul al-Arab, Abbas said, “Whether we like it or not, Israel is a Jewish state, and my central goal is to define the status of the country’s Arab citizens. I view myself as a citizen in the full sense of the word, who deserves to receive full civil rights.”
- Last month the government passed a budget that included a five-year plan for Arab society. Overall NIS 35 billion (£8.33bn) in total funding for the Arab community. Of that, NIS 9.4 billion (£2.2bn) was allocated to improve healthcare, social welfare and education.
- It also allocates hundreds of millions of shekels to integrate Arabs into Israel’s hi-tech sector.
- In a separate part of the budget, the Public Security Ministry was provided significant sums to counter crime within Arab society. Plans include new police stations in Arab towns, heightened police operations on the street, the drafting of more officers and establishing new units to prosecute gangs.
- Earlier this month the Knesset passed the UAL’s electricity bill in its first reading. The bill is designed to allow illegally built homes, predominantly Bedouins in the Negev desert, to be connected to the national grid. The bill is controversial among right wing coalition partners as it rewards illegal construction, whilst others have argued that electricity is a basic right.
Looking ahead: Abbas was also asked about his future vision, where he said he is “focusing today on advancing the issues of Arab society does not mean that I have abandoned the debate on peace. I want to be behind this process and we will achieve true peace”.
- Negotiations over the electricity bill are ongoing primarily between MK Walid Taha (UAL), Chairperson of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina). The Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo is also mediating to try and reach an agreement.