RAMALLAH, West Bank — With Israeli elections approaching on Sept. 17, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raised eyebrows earlier this month when he met with a delegation from the Democratic Union that included Noa Rothman, the granddaughter of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Meretz member Issawi Freij, in Ramallah at the Muqata. Channel 13 News reported Rothman and Freij saying after the Aug. 12 session with Abbas that the meeting had been aimed at putting the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the election agenda. The Democratic Union wants to reinvigorate and attract voters who still have hopes of negotiating a two-state solution.
Abbas expressed his wish that the Israeli government formed after the elections will resume negotiations, noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had refused to meet him on several occasions. Rothman described Abbas as a “partner for peace,” and noted, “He is desperate because of the lack of dialogue and negotiations.”
Elias Zananiri, vice chairman of the PLO's Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, supported Abbas and Rothman's comments, telling Al-Monitor that the Palestinian meetings with the Israelis are aimed at emphasizing a crucial fact: “[There is] a real Palestinian partner for peace between the two peoples on the basis of a two-state solution.” He said that such meetings will continue before as well as after the Israeli elections.
“Both the PA and the PLO try to explain to the Israeli public the truth of their position and show that the right wing's claim that there is no real Palestinian partner in the peace process is untrue,” Zananiri stated. “Ever since taking office in Israel, Netanyahu has shown no desire to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. He froze the agreements and continued to implement unilateral policies to alter the situation in the occupied territories.”
Fayez Abbas, an analyst of Israeli affairs who works for the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, told Al-Monitor that Abbas' meeting with the Democratic Union is part of the president's occasional meetings with Israeli figures in the hope that changes in Israel will lead to breaking the right's dominance over the government there.
“This meeting will give a boost to the Israeli left, by motivating leftist supporters to participate and vote in the upcoming elections, given their low participation in the previous elections,” Abbas asserted.
That said, he does not consider the Aug. 12 meeting to have been an intervention in Israeli politics, but believes it is time for the PA to take such an approach. “Intervention in the elections will strengthen the power of the Israeli left and will encourage its supporters to vote,” Abbas said. “This would not please the right wing.”
Abbas further stated, “Palestinian officials should talk about the Israeli elections directly in order to bring the PA's position on the peace process into every Israeli household, especially since the Palestinian cause and the peace process are not on the agenda of the Israeli parties, which are racing to win votes by encouraging the displacement of Palestinians, increasing settlements and annexing the West Bank to Israel.”
He noted, “The Democratic Union seeks to win votes in favor of the two-state solution in Israel, as well as the votes of the Arabs [in Israel], taking advantage of this meeting with the PA and President Abbas' good relations with Meretz, whose members have visited Ramallah and met with the president on more than one occasion.”
Abbas pointed out that the Palestinian leadership has in the past willfully played a role in Israeli politics.
“The PA had a behind-the-scenes role in the 2015 Israeli elections, in the formation of the Joint List and bringing together the different views of the Arab parties,” Abbas stated. “When the Joint List was dissolved before the last elections, in April 2019, it negatively affected the relationship between the PA and the Arab parties. The Joint List of Arab parties has re-formed, but its relationship with the PA is no longer the same as it was in 2015.” The PA leadership had apparently been angered by the Arab parties' failure to unite in contesting the elections in April, but did not say so publicly.
As for the possibility of the PA playing a mediating role in encouraging cooperation between the Democratic Union and the Joint List after the elections, Abbas said, “There will be cooperation between the two, and they will in no way recommend that Netanyahu form a government. The Joint List could for instance back the Blue and White Party after the elections without forming a coalition with it under great conditions and demands.”
The quest by the Palestinian leadership to revive the peace process is dependent on the Democratic Union and the Joint List in league with others blocking Netanyahu from retaining the premiership. A poll conducted Aug. 26 by Channel 11 had the Likud and Blue and White neck and neck, winning 32 and 31 of the 120 Knesset seats, respectively, meaning both would need the cooperation of other parties to form a government. The Democratic Union was predicted to take 6-7 seats and the Joint List 11 seats.
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