ISRAEL NEWS: Israel’s left is finding its power is limited now that it is back in power. The Boston Globe

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ISRAEL NEWS: Israel’s coalition government was formed in June following a long political crisis. It is composed of parties from all political spectrums and is determined to keep former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power. The parties agreed to put aside contentious issues like the country’s 50-plus-year occupation of territories Palestinians want for their state, choosing instead to focus on less divisive issues, like the pandemic, the economy, and the environment.

Yet the occupation grinds on. Israel’s current government has started building thousands of homes in West Bank for settlers. Six rights groups representing Palestinians have been expelled by Israel’s defense minister, citing links to militant groups. While radical settlers are waging violent attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank while Israeli soldiers support or aid them, they have been supported by Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who was once the head of the main settler lobbying organization in Israel, has rejected the idea that a Palestinian state could be created. The Palestinians are still very pessimistic about their near-term prospects.

Israel’s two center-left parties, Labor and Meretz, spent years in the opposition. Labor has been in power for ten years, while Meretz has been in opposition for more than twice as long.

Labor had made resolving the conflict with the Palestinians a core issue when it was in power in the 1990s — even as settlement construction continued, as it has under all Israeli governments for the past 54 years.

In the mid-1990s, a Labor-led government that also included Meretz signed interim peace agreements with the Palestinians known as the Oslo Accords.

But moving ahead with the agreements stalled when a right-wing government took over in 1996 after a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants, followed by failed peace talks under another short-lived Labor government in 2000 and the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising later that year.

The Israeli electorate shifted to the right, and the political base of Labor and Meretz shrank. In recent elections, Labor, the home of Israel’s founding leaders, and its ruling party for two decades, only won a few seats in Israel’s member Parliament. Meretz fell from an 12 high to just six seats in the 1990s.

Some Labor and Meretz voters bolted to the centrist Yesh Atid, which focuses on economic issues and is the second-largest party in Parliament.

Following elections in March, Meretz and Labor agreed to put aside ideological differences to form a coalition led by Yesh Atid, with centrist and right-wing parties, along with one Islamist party, opposed to Netanyahu’s rule.

But in the negotiations to forge the coalition, nationalist parties blocked the dovish factions from positions that help set policy on the Palestinians. Gayil Talshir from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, a political analyst, stated that the nationalist parties have veteran legislators who are able to determine which side is right to push their priorities. This skill left-leaning parties had lost after many years of opposition.

Still, the left has leverage to push for some of its priorities, she said. The coalition has a slim majority in Parliament, and it needs support from Labor and Meretz. They have a total 13 number of seats in Parliament. Talshir stated that “No one wants to go to election.”

For now, much of the left’s impact has been with its rhetoric, and even that has been watered down for fear of rocking the boat. After the government banned six Palestinian NGOs, which include groups that monitor Israeli human right violations in the occupied territory, the response was muted.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who serves as health minister, demanded clarifications and said it was concerning, but stopped short of condemning it.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev of Labor said that the decision was made over his head despite his membership in the country’s Security Cabinet.

Labor and Meretz have also been unable to slow settlement expansion.

Israel’s environment minister, Meretz politician Tamar Zandberg, acknowledged the party cannot achieve everything it wants but said it remained committed to the coalition deal it had signed.

“Within those limitations, we will do everything in our power to promote as much of our agenda as possible,” she recently told the Associated Press.

In the months since the coalition was formed, there have been small steps toward repairing the relationship with the Palestinian self-rule government, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, after years of rupture under Netanyahu. Abbas has been met by several Israeli ministers, and Israel has granted more work permits to Palestinian laborers.

Lior Amihai of the Yesh Din rights group, which documents settler violence against Palestinians, said he has noticed a change in style, though not substance. For example, a parliamentary hearing about settler violence was held recently, which he didn’t expect in other Knesset sessions.

“I can’t point to results in the field in terms of the occupation but there is a different feeling. Amihai stated that you can cooperate with the Knesset.

Ahmad Majdalani, a top Palestinian official, said the change is only cosmetic and Israel has a long way to go.

“We believe that this government has not changed its policy towards the Palestinian issue,” he said.

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