Members of the left-wing Meretz party met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday to address what the party’s members have described as a rightward shift in Israel’s security policies under the current unity government.
According to a joint statement released following the meeting, Meretz members raised concerns over Israel’s policies regarding the conflict with the Palestinians in general, as well as specific issues regarding violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, settlement expansion in the West Bank and the government’s recent agreement with the residents of an illegally constructed outpost, Evyatar, to leave their homes peacefully in exchange for potential retroactive permits later on.
“Health Minister (and Meretz leader) Nitzan Horovitz stressed that Meretz always led the fight for peace and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would continue to do so. Even under this government, the issue remains at the top of the Meretz party’s list of priorities: not allowing unilateral actions that will deepen the conflict or make it harder for Israel to reach an agreement in the future,” according to the statement.
In addition, Meretz members pressed Gantz, whose ministry oversees defense exports, on the latest reports on the ways Israeli cyber surveillance firm NSO Group’s products have allegedly been used by foreign countries to track political dissidents, world leaders and journalists.
“In response to the questions from members of the Meretz party, the defense minister stressed that the defense establishment was currently studying the matter and… only allowed cyber export licenses for security needs or crime prevention,” the joint statement said.
“The defense minister noted that he held meetings with a specially formed forum in the Defense Ministry when he entered his position and stressed the importance of preserving human rights in terms of weapons sales,” according to the statement.
The ministry has refused to discuss how it determines what constitutes terrorism and crime, as in some countries such terms can be used to describe what would otherwise be considered legitimate political dissent.
Regarding Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and the West Bank, Gantz told the Meretz members that his views were based on preservation of national security “while advancing peace and the diplomatic processes that allow it.”
The defense minister also said he supported strengthening Israel’s ties with the Palestinian Authority, which were notably sidelined under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the issue of settler violence against Palestinians, Gantz said he opposed such incidents and that the military was devoting resources to maintaining “law and order between the two sides.”
He also defended his decision to support a compromise regarding the Evyatar outpost earlier this month, which saw residents of the illegal settlement — constructed without government permission and possibly on privately owned Palestinian land — leaving the area willingly in exchange for the government leaving the buildings untouched, moving to determine the status of the land and potentially allowing the residents to return if the outpost is found to have been established on state land.
“The defense minister said that the agreement set a precedent that there won’t be illegal settlement, while preserving the unity of the nation and the coalition and preventing violence,” according to the statement. Gantz also told the Meretz members that the military was looking into the initial illegal establishment of the hilltop outpost.