A photo of Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan in the royal palace in Amman was the hottest item on the rightwing opposition’s Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday [Nov. 9].
For several weeks, the Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been alleging links between Abbas and Hamas. The campaign gathered momentum during the debates over the budget, in which Ra’am obtained billions of shekels for the Arab sector. The rightwing opposition claimed that some of this money would be funneled to Gaza by way of civilian NGOs associated with the Islamic Movement in Israel [affiliated with Ra’am], and that it would then be used to fund terrorist activities.
Following a recent investigation by Channel 13 news, Likud activists accused Ra’am of having improper ties with the Assistance 48 Association, claiming that the association receives public financial support and that some of the money had been transferred to Hamas. “It’s a budget with blood on its hands,” according to one of the slogans used to promote this campaign.
The campaign depicted Abbas as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The right argued that behind his soft-spoken message of equality was a man who did not believe in the very existence of the State of Israel. The government responded that Netanyahu himself laid the groundwork for bringing Abbas into the coalition by negotiating with him personally for Ra’am to join a Likud-led government.
The campaign was intended to destabilize the coalition and derail the budget, which would have brought the government down. It did not achieve that goal. By passing the budget Nov. 5, the government won a certain stability. It was a major disappointment for Netanyahu and the Likud, who began to hunker down for a lengthy stay in the opposition.
That all changed yesterday afternoon, with the surprising, almost implausible news of a historic, four-hour meeting between Abbas and the Jordanian monarch in the royal palace in Amman.
The palace spokesperson’s office released a detailed statement and photo about the meeting. Jordanian press said that “his Majesty stressed the need to achieve just and comprehensive peace on the basis of the two-state solution, which guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
It went on to say, “Abbas commended His Majesty’s position on the Palestinian cause and Jordan’s efforts to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem and support the steadfastness of Jerusalemites.”
As far as Netanyahu was concerned, this was a gift from heaven. He responded quickly with a tweet accusing Bennett of, “selling Israel off in a going-out-of-business sale.” He also referred to Abbas as the “acting prime minister,” and quoted the statement from the palace as proof that a diplomatic process was under way, right under the noses of Israelis.
The news was a major embarrassment for Bennett, who often stresses that according to the coalition agreement, Abbas would focus on civil affairs exclusively. But he clearly knew ahead of time about Abbas’s visit to Jordan and even approved it, and knew that, while there, Abbas held lengthy talks with the king on sensitive diplomatic affairs.
According to Israeli media last night, Bennett’s office expressed its indignation about the statement from the palace. Some reports said that the palace promised to withdraw any reports about the diplomatic talks. But by this morning, the Jordanian press was plastered with headlines about the historic meeting, quoting the king committing to stand beside the Palestinian brothers to achieve peace on the basis of a two-state solution. In fact, by afternoon today [Nov. 10], the palace had not released any clarification regarding its original statement.
The meeting between Mansour Abbas and King Abdullah boosts the king’s reputation among the Palestinian population in his country, but is very damaging to Bennett, especially among the rightwing electorate. Furthermore, other right-wing parties in the government could be be hurt by it.
That is why the opposition is not easing up, nor is it likely to ease up until the next election. It will play a prominent role in the right-wing parties' election campaigns.
Here are a few examples of that already happening:
This morning, the Likud party’s Twitter account posted: “The Arab media is celebrating. The Bennett-Abbas government is moving ahead with the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This government is dangerous to Israel, so we will work to bring it down as quickly as possible.”
In an interview this morning, Likud Knesset member Miki Zohar said: “If we need any more proof that this government is being run by the Islamic Movement, working in the name of Palestinian aspirations, we just got it. This government has a danger to Israel’s security.”
Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir, formerly a partner of Bennett and Ayelet Shaked on the far right, reacted with a sarcastic tweet: “Mansour Abbas, who was sent by Bennett to represent us in Jordan, contends that Jews should only pray at the Western Wall, because the Temple Mount is theirs. With representatives like that, who needs enemies?”
So far, Bennett and the right-wing members of his cabinet have not responded to these attacks. There is no doubt that the meeting in the palace sends the message that they are not setting the tone in the government. Bennett himself is seen by the right wing as doing whatever Abbas wants. Most of all, the right-wing factions in the coalition are embarrassed. It wasn’t that long ago that some of them attempted to disqualify Abbas from running for the Knesset because, as they claimed, he supported terrorism.
In fact, shortly after the meeting, the opposition started searching the archives for statements by these right-wing ministers attacking Ra’am Knesset members and especially Abbas. For example, Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana, from Bennett’s own party, attacked the Likud for abstaining in a vote to disqualify Ra’am. In February 2021, before his party came to power, he called the abstention a “moral low point.” He then ridiculed Netanyahu, saying, “Netanyahu’s new friends from Ra’am visited the families of terrorists and expressed their support for them. … There is no place for these people in the Israeli Knesset.”
This and other similar texts are now being quoted across rightwing social media. The main beneficiaries are Abbas, who just upgraded his political standing in both Israel and the Arab states, and the right, who had an issue to undermine the government handed right to them.