Mansour Abbas: From dentist to key policy maker in Israel

Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  June 4, 2021

The support of the United Arab List [Ra’am] party headed by Mansour Abbas in the Israeli coalition seeking to topple the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is not surprising, Anadolu Agency reports.

Abbas, whose party emerged as a surprise kingmaker following Israel’s last general elections, noted in an interview with Anadolu Agency in March at his home in Maghar village that United Arab List is open to negotiations with all parties, whether right-wing or left-wing, for the sake of forming a new government.

Less than an hour before a midnight deadline that was given to Yair Lapid, the founder of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, to secure the needed votes for forming a new government, Lapid announced that a deal had been reached with Abbas.

“We decided to be the last [party] to sign [the coalition agreement]. When we saw this is happening, we signed,” Abbas said.

On Wednesday evening, the United Arab List party announced a list of 11 demands from Arab citizens in Israel, who account for 20% of the country’s population of more than 9 million, describing such a deal as “historic.”

Abbas, 47, is a dentist by profession who became one of the leaders of the Islamic movement in Israel, which split into two blocs in 1996 as a result of a decision by its late founder and leader Sheikh Nimr Darwish to participate in Israeli polls and came to be known as the Islamic Movement in southern Israel.

The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, led by prominent leader Sheikh Raed Salah, refused to participate in Israeli elections and was outlawed by the Israeli authorities in 2015.

Historically, Arab parties in Israel have refused to give votes to any Israeli government as it does not recognize the rights of the Palestinian people and still maintains its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

But Abbas’s party has broken with this tradition and negotiated with the major Israeli parties to join their bid to form a new government in return for solving many of the problems experienced by Arabs living in Israel.

“Our red lines are our rights, whether national or civilian rights,” Abbas said in his interview with Anadolu Agency following the Israeli polls in March. “We don’t negotiate or compromise on these rights. We may not be able to achieve them all, but we will not abandon them.”

Abbas was born on April 22, 1974 in Maghar village in northern Israel. He studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the Faculty of Dentistry and headed the Arab students’ union at the university from 1997-1998.

In 2007, he was elected secretary-general of the Islamic movement in southern Israel, and in 2010 he was elected as deputy head of the movement.

He joined the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) four times, and in 2019, he joined the Knesset under his United Arab List party.

In the March polls, Mansour’s party gained four seats in the Knesset.

Abbas is, however, facing criticism from the other Arab parties in Israel, which accuse him of swimming against the current.

But Abbas says he is showing pragmatism and affirms his party is a political power that adheres to its identity and to its national and religious principles.

On Wednesday evening, opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement to form a coalition government, paving the way for his exit after 12 years in power.

A total of eight parties, including the United Arab List party, will be part of the coalition government headed by far-right Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett as prime minister for the first two years, who will then be succeeded in the post by Lapid.