Returning to power, the Israeli left found its influence limited
Tel Aviv After years of political life in Israel, the small dove parties that support the establishment of a Palestinian state and oppose Jewish settlements are back in government. But they find their influence limited, with pro-settler coalition partners showing little appetite for compromise and the continuing decades-old occupation of the country.
The parties must restrain themselves as hopes of a Palestinian state dwindle further under their control, with settlement building booming and peace talks becoming a distant memory. However, left-leaning 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, an MP for the dove Meretz party, which is part of the coalition. “We are not a fig leaf. We make our voices heard. But our strength is scanty.”
Israel’s coalition government, formed in June after a prolonged political crisis, is a divided group of parties from across the political spectrum linked with the goal of keeping former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of power. The two agreed to set aside contentious issues such as the country’s more than 50-year occupation of land Palestinians want for their state, choosing instead to focus on less divisive issues, such as the pandemic, the economy and the environment.
Yet the occupation continues. Under the current government, Israel has made progress in building thousands of homes for settlers in the West Bank. Its defense minister has banned six Palestinian rights groups, claiming they have links to a militant faction. Extremist settlers have stepped up violent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, while Israeli soldiers stand by or assist settlers. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who once headed the country’s main settler pressure group, rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, and Palestinians remain deeply pessimistic about the immediate future.
Israel’s center-left party, Labor and Meretz, has spent years in opposition. A decade has passed for the Labor Party and more than twice that for Meretz.
Labor had made resolving the conflict with the Palestinians a key issue when it was in power in the 1990s – even as settlement building continued, as it has under all Israeli governments for the past 54 years.
In the mid-1990s, a government led by the Labor Party that also included Meretz signed temporary peace agreements with the Palestinians known as the Oslo Accords.
But moving forward with the agreements faltered when a right-wing government took power in 1996 after a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants, followed by failed peace talks under the short-lived Labor government in 2000 and the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising later that year. .
Israeli voters have shifted to the right and the political base of Labor and Meretz has shrunk. The Labor Party, the home of Israel’s founding leaders and the country’s ruling party for the first two decades, won only a few seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in the recent elections. Meretz dropped from 12 seats in the 1990s to six.
Some Labor and Meretz voters withdrew to the centrist Yesh Atid party, which focuses on economic issues and is the second largest party in parliament.
After the elections in March, Meretz agreed and worked to put aside ideological differences to form a coalition led by Yesh Atid, with centrist and right-wing parties, along with one Islamist party, opposing Netanyahu’s rule.
But in the coalition negotiations, the nationalist parties barred the dovish factions from positions that help shape policy toward the Palestinians. Gael Talshir, a political analyst at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the nationalist parties also have veteran lawmakers who know who is scratching their backs to advance their priorities, a skill missing from left-leaning parties after years in the opposition.
Still, she said, the left has leverage to push for some of its priorities. The coalition has a slim majority in parliament and needs the support of Labor and Meretz, who hold a total of 13 seats in parliament. “No one really wants to go to the elections,” Telcher said.
Currently, much of the left’s influence was through his speeches, and even this was toned down for fear of rocking the boat. The response was muted after the government banned the six Palestinian NGOs, including those that monitor Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who holds the position of health minister, demanded clarifications and said it raised concerns, but stopped short of condemning him.
Public Security Minister Omar Bar-Lev of the Labor Party said the decision was taken above his head despite his membership in the country’s security cabinet.
The Labor Party and Meretz are also unable to slow settlement expansion.
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 signed.
“Within these restrictions, we will do everything we can to promote as much of our agenda as possible,” she recently told The Associated Press.
In the months since the coalition was formed, there have been small steps toward mending the relationship with the Palestinian self-governing government, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, after years of division under Netanyahu. Several Israeli government ministers met Abbas, and Israel granted more work permits to Palestinian workers.
Lior Amihai of the Yesh Din human rights group, which documents settler violence against Palestinians, said he noticed a change in style, but not substance. He said that a parliamentary hearing on settler violence took place recently, for example, something he hadn’t expected in other Knesset sessions.
I can’t point to the results on the field regarding the occupation but there is a different feeling. “You can work with the Knesset,” Amichai said.
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior Palestinian official, said the change was only cosmetic and that Israel had a long way to go.
“We believe that this government has not changed its policy towards the Palestinian issue,” he said.
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