“The best path for us [Ra’am] at this stage is the influential political partnership, which crosses the boundaries, and lets us into the strongholds that were built by the instruments of the Israeli state to oppose us.” — Mansour Abbas, June 26, 2021, al-Quds al-Arabi (UK)
The United Arab List Party (Ra’am) achieved a historic breakthrough in Israeli politics when it became the first Arab party to join a government coalition with Zionist parties.
Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Renewal Party and formerly Israel affairs adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, called the government that Ra’am joined “the first Israeli-Palestinian government.”
The political forging of this Jewish-Arab partnership in government, which is unprecedented in Israeli history, was led by MK Mansour Abbas, a dentist by profession and a Muslim scholar, who has been the leader of Ra’am since 2019.
The political line Abbas adopted has been interpreted by Israeli political commentators as indicating a profound change in the position of the Muslim leadership in Israel regarding the state, including implicit recognition of its Jewish character and sincere willingness to positively integrate into the society and its institutions.
However, the charter of the Ra’am Party, which was formulated in 2018 and reaffirmed a year later at the party’s conference in Nazareth headed by Abbas, takes a fundamentally hostile stance toward the Zionist movement and the State of Israel, and views the implementation of the “right of return” as the basis for achieving “peace.” The following is a translation of passages from the charter (first published by Aaron Boxerman in the Times of Israel):
• “The State of Israel was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations]. We do not absolve ourselves, the Palestinian people, of our responsibility and our failure to confront this project.”
• “[Israel,] Remove your hands from the Palestinian people so they might establish their own free and independent state, next to Israel, and that the expelled and displaced might return to their homeland and their houses and their land. Or, accept one state from the river to the sea, in which the two peoples may live under the heavens in freedom and equality and safety and peace.”
• “We all are [united as] one hand until the occupation ends and a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and in noble Jerusalem; when the expelled and displaced return to their homes and to their homeland.”
• “You [Israel] have a warning in the Frank apostates [the Crusaders] who forcefully ravished the land for nearly two centuries, until they were defeated by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi and his soldiers.”
• “Our political participation, on all its levels, from local government to the legislative authority in parliament [i.e., the Knesset], and in official civil authorities, is but an attempt to defend our rights and the interests of our Arab Palestinian community inside [Israel], and to aid our Palestinian cause, and to clash with the proposals and policies and programs of the Zionist project from within the heart of the state institutions. … It is, at the very least, a word of truth before a tyrannical despot.”
• “Our most important goal with regard to the State of Israel, regarding Palestinian Arab society, is to maintain our presence in our homeland, to preserve our identity, and the Arab, Islamic and Christian identities of our country, and to enable our community to achieve its rights in civil, national and religious spheres, and in the sphere of daily life.”
An analysis of Abbas’s statements in Arabic presents a more complex picture. Abbas, who is, as noted, a Muslim scholar, bases the legitimacy of the political strategy that he delineates and implements on Islamic foundations, and draws inspiration for it from the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.
According to Abbas, Muhammad guided the believers to not immediately resort to the use of force, and to adopt a multi-stage strategy that places a supreme priority on strengthening the Muslim community. Furthermore, the prophet, by his actions, forged (temporary) alliances with non-Muslim communities, and was prepared—at times when the Muslim community was weak—to conclude (tactical) agreements with the infidels, while expecting to overcome and subjugate them in the future.
The role of the Hegira story in Abbas’s doctrine
In an article titled “The Path of the Hegira from Mecca and the Path of the Return to Palestine” (Oct. 15, 2015), Abbas wrote:
“Is it possible to utilize this supreme anniversary [of Muhammad’s hegira, or migration, from Mecca to Medina], with its meanings and symbols, to shift the Palestinians from a state of occupation, weakness, uprooting and aggression to a new path in which we will sweep the occupation away, or impose a siege on it, and carry out a return to the motherland of Palestine and raise the flag of freedom and honor?”
The story of the Hegira, the Prophet Muhammad’s flight to the city of Medina, along with his establishment of the Islamic state in that city and forging of the Hudaybiyyah treaty [with the Quraish tribe], plays a central role in Abbas’s thought. He views it as a model for the Islamic Movement to emulate in its struggle with the Zionist movement, which established the State of Israel and rules it today.
According to Abbas, political activity must be based on Islam and not solely on literal meanings, as is the tendency of the radical organizations. Abbas seeks to act based on his understanding of the intent of the Islamic teachings, taking into account the existing situation and the relevant question of the cost or benefit of any given measure. This does not involve an iota of deviation from the basic, unalterable tenets of Islam, but it requires conceptional and political flexibility. Abbas explains that this is the conceptual mindset that led him to join the coalition headed by Bennett and Lapid.
Abbas’s order of priorities focuses first of all on strengthening the Arab community socially, culturally, economically and politically by taking part in decision-making on the governmental level, while making the most of Ra’am’s pivotal role in a fragile coalition, attaining a large chunk of the budget that is aimed at developing the Arab sector and scoring achievements in the struggle over the ownership of land, national identity and the status of the Arabic language.
Ra’am is the political front of the Islamic Movement in Israel, whose founder is portrayed as “loyal to the path” of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Hassan al-Banna, and a “twin brother” of the founder of the Hamas movement, Ahmad Yassin. Abbas also attests that his worldview has been influenced by Islamic circles and scholars who have tried to bridge between Islam and the modern world, and that he has learned from the attempts of the Islamic movements (branches of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood) to become part of the political game in several Middle Eastern countries.
The Islamic Movement operates a network of non-profit organizations in the fields of religion, culture, society and charity. These seek to disseminate an Islamic message to society; to convince the public to take part actively in mosque activities, including the al-Aqsa Mosque, and in Islamic endeavors; to organize social activity and religious preaching by devotees and students of the movement; and to provide aid to the Arab residents of Jerusalem and within Israel. In addition, the movement operates outside of Israel to direct humanitarian aid to Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries, including Syria and Lebanon.
This pattern of activity is reminiscent of Ahmad Yassin’s founding in Gaza, in 1973, of the al-Mujama al-Islami movement as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This movement, too, officially adopted a policy of religious and social activism. At the time, the Israeli military administration dismissed the warning by the Religious Affairs Ministry not to grant this movement legal recognition for fear that it would engage in subversive activity under a religious guise. During the 1980s, Sheikh Yassin founded the Hamas movement and its military wing, with the help of the network of religious institutions he had built.
Abdullah Nimar Darwish, the founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was as mentioned called the “twin brother” of Yassin, under whose guidance Darwish established the first foundations of the Islamic Movement in Rahat. Senior members of the Islamic Movement called Sheikh Yassin a “giant leader” and called Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the spiritual father of Osama bin Laden and one of the founders of Al-Qaeda (assassinated in 1989), “one of the movement’s great leaders.”
The Arab Caliphate
In a Facebook post titled “Preface to Understanding the ‘Islamic Caliphate State’ Project,” Abbas wrote (Aug. 7, 2015):
“The Islamic movements that have a political character view the establishment of the ‘State of the Islamic Caliphate’ as the pinnacle of their political project. … The practical, not theoretical, call for the [re]establishment of the caliphate began primarily in the Muslim Brotherhood movement. …
“Does the study of the Islamic Caliphate have any connection to what we are undergoing in the Palestinian sphere? And does it help us in any way? My answer is yes, and some of the issues need to be clarified and translated into the terms of our reality with wisdom, responsibility and vision. The source of our authority on this subject is the state of the Prophet [Muhammad] in Medina, and the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, which is truly led along the straight path.”
Ra’am’s phased plan
“We are at the beginning of the second phase, which is the phase of implementing the Arab policy in the Israeli political arena,” said Abbas, noting that this is a way of influencing the political elites.
Regarding the implications of his joining the government, Abbas said in June 2021, “The general understandings are wider than the coalition agreement, and we are advancing step-by-step since this is a political agreement. It is expected that there will be matters we will be able to advance with this government beyond what is in the [coalition] agreement. … Not everything is written in the coalition agreement.”
According to Abbas, Ra’am’s phased plan is aimed at implementing its program within the Israeli political arena and thereby realizing the interests of the Arab public and causing the beginning of a change in the government’s policy. The gaining of political power will lead in the next phase to greater involvement and effective influence on the Palestinian issue as well.
Recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people
In a conversation with Muhammad Majadla, Channel 12 commentator and director of the Nas news channel, at the Israel Business Conference (Dec. 21, 2021), Abbas 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?”
To this, Abbas replied: “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That is the decision of the Jewish people, to establish a Jewish state. The question today is not what is the identity of the state. It was born thus; it will remain thus. The question is, what is the status of the Arab citizen and the Arab society in the Jewish state of Israel.”
Abd al-Malik Dehamshe, a senior figure in the Islamic Movement and former chairman of Ra’am, explained that Abbas’s words do not indicate a change in the stance of the Islamic Movement and the Ra’am Party.
“They say Dr. Mansour [Abbas] has recognized the Jewishness of the country. … Well, the State of Israel was not legitimate or recognized, not by the world, not by the Palestinians, not by the Arab and Islamic nation, except when its recognition by Dr. Mansour [Abbas] came along. What did Mansour Abbas say? That they [the Jews] have established this state for themselves, and they want it to remain,” said Dehamshe.
Ra’am supports the two-state solution based on an Israeli withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967, and the return of millions of refugees and their descendants under the “right of return”—a demand that, if implemented, entails a massive transfer of the Jewish population and the destruction of the State of Israel.
‘The Jews are invaders’
Mansour Abbas once called Israel an “enemy” of the entire Palestinian people, including the Israeli Arabs, because, in his view, it has occupied Palestinian land. He labeled it “the Zionist enemy.”
On Oct. 22, 2016, Abbas, as representative of the Supreme Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arabs, took part in a rally in Ramallah under the heading, “Nationalists Who Call to Put an End to Division.” In his speech to the rally, he said:
“Listen well to us: You [the Jews] have no right to the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque, you [the Jews] have no right to the al-Buraq plaza [the Western Wall plaza], and you have no right to the city of al-Quds [Jerusalem]. You [the Jews] are invaders in this land. Those are the facts.
“Brothers, sisters, it is not enough to say that our essential conflict [with Israel] obligates us to put an end to division, our essential conflict [is] with our Zionist enemy. No. We are a Palestinian people that is entitled to a future, that is entitled to unity, that is entitled to a Palestinian state.”
Denying the historical rights of the Jewish people in Jerusalem
Based on his belief in Islam, Abbas appropriates the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for Islam, views them as religious sites (the al-Aqsa Mosque and the al-Buraq plaza) that belong exclusively to the Muslims, and completely denies the significance of the Jews’ religious bond with Jerusalem.
“The ancient history books and the archaeological experts, including the Israeli ones, have not provided any scientific evidence of the existence of the Temple of Solomon in this place or another place. In the first weeks of the Israeli occupation, [they] excavated the floor of the mosque under the carpet, and if they had found something, they would have publicized it.
“They say the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., and after 600 years, the Muslims came to it and built their Al-Aqsa Mosque on it. Imagine six hundred years of obliviousness. No one prays at it, no one renovates its ruins, no one cleans it—and today they want it as their Temple. What kind of justice, what kind of humanity, and what kind of religion is this?” he said in his 2016 speech.
Attitude towards Hamas
Abbas sees Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated as a terror organization by Israel and many other countries, including the United States, the European Union and Canada, as a legitimate political actor that is fit to be part of the Palestinian people’s leadership and representative institutions.
He has worked vigorously to promote a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, the declared aim of which is to complete the process of building the Palestinian state and to chart a plan of action and a united national struggle against Israel.
In a public message, Abbas advised Hamas to adhere to the platform it has adopted, to make it a national Palestinian plan of action and to continue the struggle with all the means at its disposal as a national asset. The Hamas platform denies the self-determination of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel, characterizes Zionism as an enemy of humanity and justifies the struggle in its current forms, meaning the armed struggle.
Aid for Palestinian security prisoners and intifada
Abbas completely supports the Palestinian security prisoners and detainees, many of whom are serving long prison terms for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, including the dispatch of suicide bombers. He sent greetings to all of these prisoners, whom he called “brave.” Abbas also expressed joy at the release of security prisoner Lena Jarboni, who assisted Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives in attempted terrorist attacks. He further noted that Jarboni came out of prison “unbroken and defiant,” proving that the “occupier” could be defeated despite the prolongation of “injustice and aggression.”
Moreover, Abbas has also expressed unreserved support for Sheikh Raed Salah, who has been sentenced several times to prison for rioting, incitement and supporting terrorism. On Dec. 28, 2015, Abbas wrote in a Facebook post that Russia’s intervention in Syria “allowed our enemies to assassinate one of the top symbols of the struggle/resistance, Samir Kuntar.” Kuntar was a Lebanese Druze terrorist who took part in a terrorist attack in Nahariya in 1979 and was killed in 2015 while engaging in terrorism on behalf of Hezbollah, which blamed Israel for the assassination.
Every year, the Islamic Movement commemorates the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, during which more than a thousand Israelis were murdered in thousands of terrorist attacks. These included dozens of suicide bombings and shootings. On Oct. 1, 2016, Abbas shared the Islamic Movement’s message of praise for the Intifada, saying that it “put the national compass back in correct alignment,” and exalted the sacrifice of martyrs, prisoners and those wounded.
The May 2021 uprising was a ‘religious war’
Sheikh Raed Badir, director of the Institute of Halacha and Islamic Studies of the Islamic Movement, to which the Ra’am Party is subject, presented a proposal to resolve the Jewish- Muslim conflict in Israel on a religious basis, based on precedents in Islamic history, including the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. According to Badir, this is the only direction to be taken as there is no time for a temporary peace, at the end of which the next generation could decide to extend it or commence war.
Badir’s article, titled, “The Religious Solution to Prevent a Great Religious War between Muslims and Israel by a Long-Term Ceasefire [Hudna] under the Conditions of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi” may help us understand the views of Abbas, who also relies on Islamic principles and precedents, including the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.
Badir’s proposal was also accompanied by important religious insights and a strong warning to Israeli Jews regarding their fate in the Land of Israel. Badir stated that the Israeli-Arab uprising in May 2021 was a Muslim “religious war” against the Jews and only a tiny illustration of the great religious war (Muslims against Jews) that would ensue if the Jews did not accept the religious settlement.
It is in this war that the Muslims will expel all the Jews from the land, and at a very high price in blood, according to Badir.
The LGBTQ+ community: ‘Enemies of the human race’
Abbas adheres to the position of the Islamic Movement regarding the LGBTQ+ community, which directly conflicts with that of the government coalition parties. The leaders of the Islamic movement refer to the LGBTQ+ as “perverts” and “enemies of the human race” who are doomed by Allah to be destroyed in the manner of Sodom and the fires of hell. The struggle for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community is presented as an attack purposely designed to destroy conservative Arab society.
On Feb. 2, 2022, MK Ibtisam Mara’ana (Labor) announced the establishment of the first LGBTQ+ shelter in Arab society. Mara’ana tweeted: “We are making history and today it begins. A residential and emergency shelter will be established in Israel for minors, young men and women from the Arab LGBTQ+ community who were forced to leave their homes. This is my flagship project with and for the gay Arab community. Today we made significant progress when we received the blessing and support of Minister Meir Cohen.”
Ra’am MK Walid Taha responded to her on Feb. 3, 2022:
“O people, we have created you male and female, and have divided you into peoples and tribes for a species you will distinguish between you [Koran, Surah 49, verse 13, translated by Uri Rubin]. The words of the mighty Allah are true. Ibtisam Mara’ana, you do not have to dream, you are awake! There will never be any center that encourages or provides shelter for a man or woman who marries members of the same sex in the Arab sector! Finished.
“Oh Ibtisam, the people in our Arab society maintain their value system and do not accept that a man marries a man and a woman with a woman! The claim that some members of the coalition did not oppose the proposal is a blatant lie, as no one made such a proposal in the first place, and it is possible that Mara’ana started talking about it in secrecy and behind closed doors.
“This refuge and any refuge for this group [the LGBTQ+ community] will not arise and will not be! I wish that Ibtisam, assuming she is an Arab, and her party, would take care of the burning problems of Arab society, especially [in light of the fact] that it [the Labor Party] was the cause of these difficulties during decades of rule in the country.”
In the first months of the Israeli governing coalition’s existence, the Islamic Movement and Ra’am under Mansour Abbas’ leadership have scored major gains for the Arab sector. These gains have been in the sphere of construction and development; in securing a larger budget for Arab local authorities; and in thwarting government plans that are perceived as infringing on the rights of the Arab residents.
The great power held by Abbas, with Ra’am as a pivotal factor in the coalition, enables his party to promote its national and Islamic platform, strengthen the affinity and loyalty of local political actors to Ra’am, and through the network of social and religious organizations that the Islamic Movement operates to cultivate a new generation that leans more toward Islam, along with a gradual Islamization of Arab society.
The positions that Abbas has openly expressed indicate that his pragmatism is solely a tactical means of rapidly and effectively promoting his strategic objectives, namely, building a more united Arab society under the flag of nationalism and Islam, in order to pursue goals in the political arena. These include supporting the Palestinian organizations against Israel both politically and in the conflict itself, demanding a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 lines, and fulfilling the Palestinian demand for the “right of return” of millions of Palestinians and their descendants who are defined as “refugees,” which in practice means the destruction of the State of Israel.
IDF Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.