TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – After years in Israel’s political desert, small pigeon parties that support the Palestinian state and are against …
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – After years in Israel’s political desert, small pigeon parties that support the Palestinian state and oppose Jewish settlements are back in government. But they find that their influence is limited, with pro-settler coalition partners showing little appetite for compromises, and the country’s decades-long occupation continues.
The parties have to rein in themselves as the hope of a Palestinian state slips further away under their surveillance, with settlement construction booming and peace talks a distant memory. Nevertheless, left-wing lawmakers say their presence in the coalition is important and that 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 dove-like Meretz party that is part of the coalition. “We are not a fig leaf. We make our voice heard. But our power is small. “
Israel’s coalition government, formed in June after a protracted political crisis, is a fragile collage of parties from across the political spectrum bound by the goal of keeping former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of power. The parties agreed to put controversial issues aside as the country’s more than 50-year occupation of territories that the Palestinians want for their state, and chose instead to focus on less divisive issues such as the pandemic, the economy and the environment.
Yet the occupation grinds. Under the current government, Israel has gone on to build thousands of homes for settlers in the West Bank. Its defense minister has banned six Palestinian rights groups claiming links to a militant faction. Radical settlers have stepped up the violent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, while Israeli soldiers stand by or help the settlers. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who once headed the country’s most important lobby group for settlers, rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians remain deeply pessimistic about the near future.
Israel’s two center-left parties, Labor and Meretz, spent years in opposition. It’s been a decade for Labor and more than twice as long for Meretz.
Labor had made the resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians a core issue when it was in power in the 1990s – even as settlement construction continued, as it has done under all Israeli governments for the past 54 years.
In the mid-1990s, a Labor-led government, which also included Meretz, signed temporary peace agreements with the Palestinians known as the Oslo Accords.
But moving forward with the agreements stalled when a right-wing government took over in 1996 following 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 moved to the right, and the political base of Labor and Meretz shrank. Labor, home to Israel’s founding leaders and the country’s ruling party for the first two decades, won only a handful of seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in recent elections. Meretz dropped from a maximum of 12 seats in the 1990s to six seats.
Some Labor and Meretz voters rallied to centrist Yesh Atid, who focuses on economic issues and is the second-largest party in parliament.
Following the March election, Meretz and Labor agreed to put ideological disagreements aside to form a coalition led by Yesh Atid, with center- and right-wing parties, along with an Islamist party opposed to Netanyahu’s government.
But in the negotiations to form the coalition, nationalist parties blocked the dove-like factions from positions that help set policy against the Palestinians. The nationalist parties also have veteran lawmakers who know whose back to push their priorities, a skill left-wing parties lacked after years in opposition, said Gayil Talshir, a political analyst at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
Still, the left has the opportunity to push for some of its priorities, she 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. “No one really wants to go to the polls,” Talshir said.
So far, much of the left’s influence has been with its rhetoric, and even that has been watered down for fear of rocking the boat. The response was dampened after the government banned the six Palestinian NGOs, including groups monitoring Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who is acting health minister, demanded clarification, saying it was worrying but stopped condemning it.
Labor Minister Omer Barlev said the decision was made over his head despite his membership of the country’s security cabinet.
Labor and Meretz have also not been able to slow down settlement expansion.
Israel’s environment minister, Meretz politician Tamar Zandberg, acknowledged that the party could not achieve everything it wanted, but said it remains committed to the coalition agreement it had signed.
“Within these constraints, we will do everything in our power to advance 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 towards repairing relations with the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, after several years of disruption under Netanyahu. Several Israeli ministers have met with Abbas, and Israel has granted several work permits to Palestinian workers.
Lior Amihai of the Yesh Din rights group, which documents settler violence against Palestinians, said he had noticed a change in style but not substance. He said a recent parliamentary hearing on settler violence, for example, was something he would not have expected at other Knesset meetings.
“I can not point to results in the field in terms of the occupation, but there is a different feeling. You can work with the Knesset, ”Amihai said.
Ahmad Majdalani, a top Palestinian official, said the change is only cosmetic and that Israel has a long way to go.
“We believe that this government has not changed its policy on the Palestinian question,” he said.
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