Mansour Abbas, Mahmoud Abbas and the 'Abraham Effect'

AuthorDan Diker & Khaled Abu Toameh
Publication Date23 April 2021
Although Mansour Abbas and Mahmoud Abbas share the same family name, they are unrelated. They also diverge in their approaches to their local constituencies, Israel and the Middle East. Dr. Mansour Abbas, a 46-year-old dentist from northern Israel and chairman of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, scored a dramatic electoral victory in securing four seats in Israel's March Knesset elections. He ran on a platform of cooperation, integration and normalization, breaking with decades of Arab party nationalist and Islamist rejectionist rhetoric against Israel.

Instead, Mansour Abbas publicly declared readiness to join an Israeli right-wing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In contrast, Mahmoud Abbas, the longtime leader of the PLO, Fatah and chairman of the Palestinian Authority, running for reelection in May after 16 years of a four-year term, is still campaigning with the hard-line, anti-Israel, anti-normalization messages that have characterized his Fatah party for decades.

Israel's internal 'Abraham Accords'?

Mansour Abbas's success has positioned him as a prospective kingmaker in determining Israel's governing coalition. Shelving nationalist and Palestinian slogans, Mansour Abbas, while a devout Muslim representing an Islamic party, has pursued a pragmatic political path to electoral success, advancing the socio-economic agenda of Israel's Arab population. This was not a short-term tactical move. During 2020, Abbas had publicly signaled his openness to working with conservative Zionist coalitions, including cooperating with Netanyahu, who had aggressively courted Abbas and the Israeli Arab sector.

Mansour Abbas's unilateral reset mirrors the spirit of the Abraham Accords and creates an internal "Abraham Effect" on Israeli Arab politics. Abbas appears to have moved Arab politics from years of political and ideological rejectionism and inflammatory rhetoric against Israel. Instead, Abbas has chosen a pragmatic, issue-oriented approach to tackle pressing security, social and economic challenges within Israel's Arab communities.

Shopping in the Arab market next to the Old City in Jerusalem, May 13, 2011. photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

The political context and complexity of the "Ra'am Phenomenon"

Abbas's prime-time television Hebrew address on April 1 reflected an unprecedented outreach by an Arab politician to the Israeli public, particularly the political right. Abbas said that he would "courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples."

Abbas's move was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Several months earlier, in a December 2020 interview, Abbas said, "Our failure is due to lack of self-criticism." Abbas also noted the urgency of addressing economic and social crises in the Arab sector that required political pragmatism to solve. Abbas's campaign avoided incendiary default statements on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—that had characterized the Israeli Arab political leadership's rhetoric for decades, including the April swearing-in of Knesset members. Instead of pledging allegiance to Israel, Joint Arab List faction MKs used the platform to condemn Israel as an "apartheid, racist, occupation state."

Joint Arab List Party member Ahmad Tibi speaks during a press conference in Nof HaGalil, northern Israel, Feb. 20, 2021. Photo by Roni Ofer/Flash90.

Abbas's successful campaign responded to growing frustration in the Israeli Arab community. Since 2007, the Israeli Arab middle class has grown significantly. Israel's nearly two million Arab citizens have increasingly sought economic and political integration...

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