This week’s overt meeting in Ramallah between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was an important and much-needed breakthrough after more than a decade of diplomatic stagnation. Granted, both men were careful to stress that the meeting was almost technical in nature, addressing economic and security issues only.
But the very fact that it took place and was made public sent a vital message of opposition to the dangerous policy of strengthening Hamas at the Palestinian Authority’s expense that this government inherited from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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According to Gantz, the two men discussed closer security coordination and agreed on a series of steps to ease the PA’s economic woes. On Monday, the UN’s special envoy to the Middle East warned that the PA is facing economic collapse, due partly to Israel’s decision to deduct money from the tax revenue it transfers to the PA. Gantz and Abbas announced that Israel had agreed to loan the PA 500 million shekels ($156 million).
In this context, it’s worth noting that soon after the pandemic erupted, Israel also promised to aid the PA by giving it an 800-million-shekel grant, but never did so. This is the price of populism: With one hand, Israel deducts money from the Palestinian tax transfers due to public pressure against the PA’s payments to Palestinian prisoners, and with the other hand, it’s forced to provide grants and loans to prevent the PA’s collapse.
But there are also some things that haven’t changed since this “government of change” was inaugurated. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to renounce the meeting with Abbas for fear of the right’s reaction. “There’s no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be,” a source close to him told reporters. Later, there were further leaks from his “associates” attacking Gantz and accusing him of nothing less than “undermining the government’s stability.” And this happened despite the fact that the meeting was coordinated in advance among all the relevant parties, even according to Bennett.
Bennett’s response to this meeting is embarrassing, but so is the silence from his government’s left flank following his childish statements ruling out any possibility of renewed dialogue with the Palestinians. These statements are similar to what Bennett told the New York Times prior to his visit to Washington last week – that his government won’t hold diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians and will continue the policy of expanding West Bank settlements. Bennett said this approach was necessitated by the political diversity of his governing coalition. “What I’m doing now is finding the middle ground,” he said.
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But in reality, diplomatic stagnation and settlement expansion aren’t “middle ground.” They represent a capitulation by the government’s left wing to its right flank, even though the latter doesn’t constitute the majority of the coalition. It’s high time for the center-left to internalize the fact that Netanyahu has been replaced, and it should no longer deem any compromise acceptable to prevent his hypothetical return. Especially not if the price is explicit support for opposition to a diplomatic process.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.