What happened: The leadership of the left wing Meretz Party met last night with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
- The delegation was led by party leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, included Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej and Faction Chairwoman MK Michal Rozin.
- Minister Horowitz said, “Meretz has a mission in the government: to keep the two-state solution alive. We won’t let it disappear, and we won’t (let anyone) sabotage the chance of achieving that in the future because there isn’t any other solution. We believe that there is no place for unilateral steps that might undermine the chances of implementing the two-state solution. Not new settlements, not outposts and not violence by extremists among the settlers… We have come today to rebuild a direct and permanent channel, and to give a booster shot to cooperation.”
- Minister Frej added, “We are here to advance the two-state solution. To say that you are our partners. The future is important, but we first need to act to make the present better, and for that we need cooperation between the ministries and the governments.”
- After the meeting Abbas said, “We need to preserve the Palestinian people’s hope. Because if we lose hope, we’ll lose the future.”
- He also thanked Health Minister Horowitz for his assistance with coronavirus, “We live together. When the Palestinians are free of the coronavirus, the Israelis will be free, and vice versa.”
- According to Barak Ravid writing in Walla News, Abbas also passed on a message, “Tell Ayelet Shaked that I want to meet her. Why are people afraid to talk to me? Let her come and say anything she wants, and I’ll listen. I know that she has very tough opinions, but even if we agree on just one percent, that would be progress.”
- Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (from Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina Party) responded on Twitter: “That isn’t going to happen. I won’t meet a Holocaust denier who prosecutes IDF soldiers in the Hague and pays Jews murderers.”
- The opposition also criticised the visit. Likud MK Yariv Levin claimed the health minister had left a coronavirus cabinet meeting in order to visit Ramallah. He said that the meeting showed that Horowitz cared more about meeting “with the terrorist financier… than the health of Israeli citizens.”
Context: The range of responses highlighted the wide divergency on this issue from within the Israeli coalition. The meeting happened with Prime Minister Bennett’s knowledge and his tacit consent, if not support. In his speech at the UNGA last week, Bennett did not mention the Palestinian issue.
- However, this was the second ministerial level meeting held with the Palestinian leader under the new government as Defence Minister Gantz also met Abbas in August.
- That meeting led to Israel introducing a series of economic good will measures; including a NIS 0.5bn (£114m) loan, increasing employment permits entry in Israel by 15,000 workers, and issuing new building permits for 900 Palestinian homes in Area C.
- That meeting was the highest level face to face contact in over a decade. The Israeli government’s new approach has been described as looking to ‘shrink the conflict’. As such, the sides have also agreed to continue their security cooperation mechanism between with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the PA Security Forces. In the meeting yesterday Abbas was also joined by Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and intelligence chief Majed Faraj who together lead on coordination with Israel security officials.
- Domestically the PA remains under immense pressure following Abbas’s decision to postpone elections in April and due to the PA’s crackdown on protestors who are demanding an end to corruption and justice for Nizar Banat – the activist and outspoken PA critic, who died in June after PA security forces violently arrested him.
- Frej, the only Arab Muslim minister in the government, has a key role in trying to advance such meetings. In July he was credited with arranging for Horowitz to meet PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila and explore further medical cooperation between the sides.
- Meretz politicians have visited Ramallah in the past, when they were in the opposition, this was the first time such meeting as part of the new government.
Looking ahead: Abbas invited all the new government’s ministers to visit him in Ramallah, “We don’t have to agree. We do have to talk.”
- Last week Israel Hayom reported that the PA has begun to lay the “groundwork” for a possible resumption of peace negotiations with Israel if and when Yair Lapid becomes prime minister in August 2023.