The coalition relies on 60 Knesset members, and the sound of elections is again in the air. Everyone is suddenly a king and queen after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lost the support of MK Idit Silman by committing the sin of neglecting his party’s rank and file.
Even a political novice like Nir Orbach understands that now is the time to squeeze concessions. Orbach has conditioned his support of the government on the illegal outposts being connected to the electrical grid. He has nothing to lose: If his coalition colleagues in the Meretz party swallow the bitter pill, Orbach can boast of his achievement to his fellow worshipers at his shul in Petah Tikva. And, if his leftist partners decide that that’s one bitter pill too many, Orbach stands to become the hero of the right.
And so the hot potato lands at Meretz’s door. Leftist organizations and the party’s electorate have launched a campaign against connecting the outposts to the grid. In large ads running this week in Haaretz, the heads of Fighters for Peace, Mehazkim, Breaking the Silence and Peace Now say that the move isn’t about a coalition compromising but about surrendering to violence and a deepening of the occupation. On the other hand, do you want to go down in history as the ones who enabled Benjamin Netanyahu to return to power and open the doors for Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to take their seats in the cabinet?
A bit of an answer to that question is hidden in the body of the ad. It says that most of the outposts don’t need to be connected to the grid because they already are. Moreover, senior professionals recently approved providing electric power to outposts built on state lands. Furthermore, the state prosecutor has provided a legal opinion that makes it possible to connect Palestinian villages in Area C to the grid and several of them will be doing that.
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Meretz shouldn’t be pulling the plug on the settler right. It must swallow the bitter pill, and demand something appropriate in exchange. It has accepted the prime minister’s refusal to move the peace process forward or deign to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Breaking its promise to voters, Meretz isn’t demanding that the nation-state law be rescinded or even amended. In the face of internal criticism, the party honored its commitment to the coalition and supported the passage of the anti-democratic citizenship law.
All this is happening at a time when Meretz’s leadership is urging leftists to actively support the party, promising to continue the struggle for the values of peace and democracy. Therefore, party leader Nitzan Horowitz should make it clear to Bennett that the left also has principles and even red lines.
Here is a list of some of the demands Meretz should be presenting to the prime minister: Suspension of construction plans in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Atarot, which are designed to frustrate the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem; the immediate evacuation of outposts that have been built in recent years on private Palestinian land; granting of building permits to Palestinians living in Area C; barring further evictions of families from Sheikh Jarrah through land expropriations and by granting rights to its Palestinian residents; deploying the army to defend Palestinian and human rights activists against settler violence and filing indictments against those suspected of hurting innocent people or damaging property; and a sharp reduction in the number of administrative detentions.
Leftist activists don’t threaten Knesset members and attack Meretz ministers. But Bennett needs to take into account that they also face pressure from their frustrated voting public. With a solid Knesset faction of six members – a number similar to what the prime minister can count on despite himself – Meretz has the right and even the duty to use its power to delay Israel’s slide into apartheid and stand by the Palestinians suffering from the injustices of the occupation.