After years in Israel’s political desert, the small peaceful parties that support the Palestinian state and oppose Jewish settlements are back in government. But they are finding that their influence is limited, with pro-settler coalition partners showing little appetite for engagement, and the country’s decades-long presence in the West Bank continues to grow.
The parties have to hold back as hopes for a Palestinian state recede further and further under their watch, with settlement construction on the rise and peace talks a distant memory. Still, leftist lawmakers say their presence in the coalition is important and the alternative is worse.
“Unfortunately, this is not the government that will sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” said Mossi Raz, a lawmaker from the peaceful Meretz party, which is part of the coalition. “We are not a fig leaf. We are making our voices heard. But our power is low. “
Israel’s coalition government, formed in June after a protracted political crisis, is a stirred collage of parties from across the political spectrum tied to the goal of keeping former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of power. The parties agreed to set aside contentious issues such as the retention of territories that Palestinians want for their state for more than 50 years, choosing instead to focus on less divisive issues such as the pandemic, the economy and the environment.
Israel’s two center-left parties, Labor and Meretz, spent years in opposition. It has been a decade for Labor and more than double for Meretz.
The Labor Party had made resolving the conflict with the Palestinians a central issue when it was in power in the 1990s, even as settlement construction continued, as it has done with all Israeli governments for the past 54 years.
In the mid-1990s, a Labor-led government that also included Meretz signed interim peace accords with the Palestinians known as the Oslo Accords.
But going ahead with the deals stalled when a right-wing government took power in 1996 after a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants, followed by failed peace talks under another short-lived Labor government in 2000 and the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising. later that year. .
The Israeli electorate shifted to the right and the Labor and Meretz political base contracted. Labor, home to Israel’s founding leaders and the country’s ruling party for the first two decades, won just a handful of seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in the last election. Meretz fell from a peak of 12 seats in the 1990s to six.
Some Labor and Meretz voters joined the centrist Yesh Atid, which focuses on economic issues and is the second-largest party in parliament.
Following the March elections, Meretz and Labor agreed to put aside ideological differences to form a Yesh Atid-led coalition with centrist and right-wing parties, along with an Islamist party, opposed to the Netanyahu government.
But in the negotiations to forge the coalition, the nationalist parties blocked moderate factions from positions that help establish policies over the Palestinians. Nationalist parties also have veteran lawmakers who know whose back is behind them to push their priorities, a skill left-wing parties lacked after years in opposition, said Gayil Talshir, a political analyst at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Still, the left has clout to advance some of its priorities, he said. The coalition has a slim majority in parliament and needs the support of Labor and Meretz, who have a total of 13 seats in parliament. “Nobody really wants to go to the election,” Talshir said.
For now, much of the impact of the left has been with its rhetoric, and even that has been diluted for fear of shaking the boat. The response was muted after the government outlawed all six Palestinian NGOs, including groups that monitor Israeli human rights violations in the disputed territories.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who serves as Health Minister, demanded clarification and said it was concerning, but stopped short of condemning him.
The Minister of Public Security, Omer Barlev, of Labor, said that the decision was made over his head despite his membership in the country’s Security Cabinet.
Labor and Meretz have also not been able to stop the expansion of the settlements.
Israel’s Environment Minister Meretz Politician Tamar Zandberg acknowledged that the party cannot achieve everything it wants, but said it remains committed to the coalition agreement it had signed.
“Within those limitations, we will do everything in our power to advance as much of our agenda as possible,” he recently told The Associated Press.
In the months since the coalition was formed, small steps have been taken toward repairing the relationship with the Palestinian self-government, led by Mahmoud Abbas, after years of breakdown under Netanyahu. Several Israeli government ministers have met with Abbas and Israel granted more work permits to Palestinian workers.
Lior Amihai of the rights group Yesh Din, which documents settler violence against Palestinians, said he has noticed a change in style, though not in substance. He said a parliamentary hearing was recently held on settler violence, for example, something he would not have expected in other Knesset sessions.
“I cannot point to results in the field in terms of occupancy, but there is a different sentiment. You can work with the Knesset, ”Amihai said.
Ahmad Majdalani, a senior Palestinian official, said the change is only cosmetic and Israel has a long way to go.
“We believe that this government has not changed its policy towards the Palestinian issue,” he said.