Muslim Politician Holds Key to Netanyahu Retaining Top Office in Israel

Mansour Abbas, 46-year-old Palestinian leader of an Islamic party, has emerged as the man who can make or break Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ambition of retaining the top elected office in his country. On Thursday, Abbas quoted from the Holy Quran in a primetime speech on Israeli National Television and said he was "a proud Arab and Muslim". 

Mansour Abbas, Israeli Knesset Member

The recent March 23 vote in Israel was the 4th in 2 years. With no single party or group of allied parties winning a clear majority, this election has also proved inconclusive like the last three. Abbas heads the Raam party that won just four seats in the latest elections for 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu's Likud party won 30 seats, making it the biggest party -- but a majority of 61 is required to form a government. Netanyahu has urged his former right-wing allies Naftali Bennett and Gideon Saar to "come back home" after the two ran their own lists in the last election. Saar has ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, while Bennett has not yet declared his loyalty, according to an AFP report.

Abbas spoke of crime, racism and poverty faced by Arab Israelis who make up 20% of the country's population of 9.3 million. He demanded equality and partnership with others in Israel. “Citizens of Israel, I stand in front of you in the atmosphere of the Passover and Easter holidays and on the eve of the month of Ramadan, and carry a prayer of hope, and an uncompromising aspiration for shared life on the basis of mutual respect and true equality", he said. 

The Muslim Israeli leader did not list his demands for the coalition negotiations or any concrete positions – he is open to offers. He may have made the headlines because of his speech on Thursday, but now is when he will face the real test. While the Israeli public views the speech as a message of conciliation, in the Arab community the responses were divided, reported Israeli newspaper Haaretz

If Abbas chooses to join a coalition with either the right or left bloc, this will be the first time an Arab party becomes a part of the Israeli government. 
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