In a televised prime time press conference, Ra'am Chairman Mansour Abbas called on Thursday for cooperation between Israel's Arab and Jewish communities but did not name which candidate he would recommend to the president to form the next government.
"I extend a hand in my name and in the name of the members of the Arab public that elected us to create a chance of a shared life in the Holy Land," Abbas said. "I stand here and say that the time has come, and it is the time to listen to the other, to recognize the narrative and look for the common denominator.
"The State of Israel is changing and it refuses to open its eyes. We do not have to agree on everything, we will certainly have disagreements, but we owe it to ourselves, the right and opportunity to get to recognize one another."
The small Islamist party has emerged as an unlikely kingmaker following the March 23 vote as neither bloc has enough seats to form a coalition government, but Abbas said he was not “blinded” by his status and refused to say which parliamentary bloc he will support.
"I have been described in many ways before and after this speech. The éminence grise, the kingmaker and many others," he said. "I am not blinded by this nor I seek anybody's approval. I do not want to be part of any bloc on the right or left. I'm here in a different bloc, the bloc that elected me to serve my people and gave me the mandate to turn the demands of the Arab public, which for years remained demands, into a real tangible plan.
"I urge all of us to change this reality. We're here to look ahead, and we expect others on the left and right to adopt our approach. Innovation is largely about creating change in an existing climate. We live in the same old climate, and it's time for a change."
In his speech, Abbas described the burning issues bedeviling the Arab sector, such as crumbling infrastructure and high crime and poverty rates, and described other problems shared by the Jewish community such as the shortage in hospital beds while not mentioning the Palestinian issue.
Before Abbas' speech, Blue & White Chairman Benny Gantz called on the Arab lawmaker not to support a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Israeli Arabs have been harmed in recent years by a series of actions led by Netanyahu. This has not changed, and it will not change." Gantz said. "Now that he needs you, he will tell you stories and promise everything — he is lying. All he wants is one vote, to overthrow the [current] government [in which Blue & White has an equal voting right as Netanyahu's Likud party], and then when he no longer needs you, all promises will go into the garbage bin of history."
Far-right activist and number 3 in the Religious Zionist alliance, Adv. Itamar Ben-Gvir, said that in his speech, Abbas was trying to portray himself as a "cute teddy bear."
Ben-Gvir slammed Abbas' ties to the Islamic movement, to which Ra'am is affiliated, a movement the Kahanist said, "supports Hamas and sanctifies baby killers."
He called on right-wing parties — including Naftali Bennett's Yamina and Gideon Saar's New Hope which are not part of Prime Minister Netanyahu's right-wing bloc — to form a government together without relying on Ra'am.
"A coalition that relies on Abbas will be the end of the right. A coalition with the Joint List and Meretz will send Bennett and Saar home," he said.
Likud's Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said Abbas represents a part of Israel's Arab sector that wishes to live in peace with the country's Jewish majority.
"I was glad to hear Abbas," he said, "The joint List does not represent the Arab citizens of Israel who want to live in peace in Israel. Today, we saw that this voice has another representation in the Knesset."
Labor leader Merav Michaeli called on Abbas to join her "so that together we can change the reality in Israel."
"It took coronavirus and a political collapse to realize after 28 years of incitement by Netanyahu and the right that the Arab community is a part of Israeli society," she said.