Meretz head Gal-On meets Abbas in Ramallah

Government slams move, says Palestinians ‘won’t make peace or advance the interest of their people by talking to the opposition’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)

Despite a freeze in high-level contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the head of the country’s left-wing Meretz party met PA head Mahmoud Abbas Sunday.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On traveled to Ramallah to discuss ways to advance the peace process and to discuss a controversial letter Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote to world leaders calling for Abbas’s ouster. Jerusalem slammed Abbas for agreeing to meet Gal-On, a prominent member of the opposition, saying that peace can only be advanced if the Palestinians engaged with Israel’s elected government.

Gal-On was scheduled to meet with Abbas at 1 p.m. and hold a press conference after the meeting, which was initiated by former Israeli ambassador Ilan Baruch. Now Gal-On’s policy adviser, Baruch famously quit the foreign service last year because he said he felt he could no longer represent the policies advanced by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Liberman.

In her discussion with Abbas, Gal-On intended to bring up the controversial letter Liberman last Monday wrote to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he attacked the Palestinian leadership and called for new elections in the Palestinian territories. She also planned to talk about ways to advance the stalled peace process, Gal-On told The Times of Israel before the meeting.

Despite criticism from within and without the government, Liberman over the last few days has vigorously continued to call for new elections in the PA to oust Abbas. “In every act of negotiations, there are two basic questions: Can the other side deliver the goods, and what are its intentions?” he said. “We are negotiating with Abu Mazen and we expect him to honor his commitments. The first question is whether he is able to do so — a man who doesn’t control the Gaza Strip and for years has been incapable of arranging elections in the PA? Would he be able to honor his commitments toward us, if he ever made any?”

Since peace talks broke down several months ago, the peace process has been stalled, with Abbas refusing to meet Netanyahu or other senior government officials. In June, deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz — who has since bolted the government and returned to the opposition — said he had scheduled a meeting with Abbas, but the Palestinian president canceled and the two never met.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)

“Abu Mazen is making a mistake if he thinks that speaking to opposition parties is a substitute for speaking to government of Israel,” a government official told The Times of Israel in response to Gal-On’s plan, using Abbas’s nom de guerre. “Three and a half years ago, Netanyahu was elected and during this period, for the most part, Abu Mazen has refused to negotiate,” the official said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre. “He is not going to make peace or advance the interest of his people if he doesn’t engage with the government of Israel.”

Earlier this month, Gal-On, whose Meretz party currently holds three Knesset seats, told The Times of Israel that she was worried about the future of the peace process since “Netanyahu is no partner.”

Regarding Abbas’s ability and willingness to advance peace with Israel, she said: “I don’t determine who is the leader for the Palestinians. Abu Mazen is their representative. Is he good, not so good — it doesn’t matter. As long as he is the Palestinians’ representative — and he is a moderate — we need to start talking with him again. I am afraid that whoever comes after Abu Mazen will be even worse.”

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