Sunday night Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received an Israeli delegation in Ramallah. According to Ultra Voice and Times of Israel, he was not alone: his Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, Director of the General Intelligence Service Major General Majed Faraj and Abbas’s advisor for religious affairs Mahmoud al-Habbas were all in tow to receive Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Regional Development Minister Isawi Frej and MK Michale Rozin, all from Meretz, in Ramallah.
Meretz, a member of the diverse ruling coalition, is committed to a two-state solution, though returning to the negotiating table isn’t on the Prime Minister’s agenda. Nonetheless, Frej stated the purpose of the meeting was to advance that agenda, as reported in the Times of Israel. Horowitz framed the purpose of the meeting a bit differently, as reported in the Jerusalem Post; he stated that the party came in order to rebuilding channels of communication in order to advance dialogue and cooperation; he also noted that Meretz will keep the solution alive within the government.
Bennett is himself ideologically opposed, but as I’ve written before, he has also stated that in order to preserve the coalition, it cannot stray too far from the status quo and so he has vowed there will neither be an annexation of land nor a two-state solution.
It seems as if Abbas recognizes that this still leaves a space for warming up relations; Meretz reported he said, “We must create confidence-building measures that will prove that we intend to make peace and allow me to preserve the hope of the Palestinian people. If we lose hope, we will lose the future.”
I was curious as to what the Arabic press was reporting, and found one report saying that the highly publicized meeting was secret, another saying it angered the government, and a third which shared a something a source close to PM Bennett said; it was very interesting, although I was unable to find it elsewhere. According to the Saudi Arabian news site, Asharq Al-Awsat, Bennett was annoyed at the Meretz members going to Ramallah but “he did not wish to prevent ministers in his government from holding meetings in Ramallah, especially since he had allowed the Minister of Defense, Benny Gans, who met President Abbas weeks ago. But he asked to reduce these meetings and be careful that the Palestinians misinterpret them.”
Now, this is the part I found most interesting, “He was quoted as saying: ‘We agree in this government that no party should interfere with the work and programs of the other party. I do not support the establishment of a Palestinian state, but I do not base the government’s policy on this position. The Meretz party supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, and I do not interfere in their affairs nor try to dissuade them from their path. This is a government built on mutual respect for intellectual differences. However, no one is imposing his position on the government. ‘” (italics added.)
I thought this idea of political respect of differences refreshing and admirable. It was also in line with this review of his first 100 days in office, which noted the coalition’s guiding principles, that is that it will focus on shared concerns and put aside that what separates them. Ignoring the elephant in the room and not preventing coalition partners from approaching that elephant are two different things.
Although many on the right were upset with the visit in Ramallah and turned down Abbas’ invitation to them as well, if coalition partners abide by this mutually respectful agreement which allows latitude of activity, the next few years may be very interesting to watch. As I wrote two weeks ago when I described my own rose-colored glasses and then the following week when I refused to take them off, I’d like to focus on possibilities. What about you?