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Meretz leader Zehava Galon on the stakes of the upcoming legislative election in Israel


Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon. CC BY-SA 4.0, Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ronen Akerman

Israel’s legislative election, the fourth in three years, is set to take place on 1 November. Israel had been governed by a unity government bringing together right- and left-wing parties against former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, but the fragile coalition fell apart in April after one Member of the Knesset departed.

Zehava Galon was Meretz chairperson from 2012 to 2018, and has been again since the summer of 2022. She represented Meretz in the Knesset from 1999 to 2017. After leaving parliament, she founded the NGO Zulat, which campaigns for equality and human rights. She is her Meretz’s top candidate in the Knesset elections on 1 November.

Translated by Loren Balhorn.

With current polling numbers suggesting that a clear majority is unlikely, the parties that make it into the Israeli Knesset will face tough negotiations over the shape of the next coalition. To prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power, Zehava Galon, the chairwoman of Israel’s leading social-democratic party, Meretz, can imagine an alliance with religious parties if need to be. But as she told the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Markus Bickel, in order to achieve real equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, she calls for the creation of a left-wing Jewish–Palestinian party.

Ten years ago, you said that Meretz was the leading party of the Israeli Left. Today, your party can’t be certain of re-entering the Knesset. Why are times so bad for Israeli’s Left?

What I said ten years ago about Meretz being the leader of the Left is more true today than ever. Meretz is the only party in Israel that defines itself as left-wing — fighting for equality, justice, and a fairer economy in the spirit of a social-democratic worldview. Unlike the parties of the centre, we stand for an end to the occupation and a peace settlement with the Palestinian side.

Doesn’t the Israeli Labour Party, HaAvoda, also claim to be left-wing and social-democratic?

Unfortunately, the party’s leadership insists on defining itself as centrist, although individual MPs of coruse continue to argue for genuinely left-wing values. That said, neither the end of the occupation nor full equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens is high on the Labour Party’s agenda.

After the March 2020 election, the Joint List of four Arab parties formed the largest opposition faction in the Knesset. In the meantime, the alliance has disintegrated, with only Hadash and Ta’al still running together. Does the weakness of the Palestinian-Israeli parties weaken the Left as a whole?

2020 was indeed a significant year for the representation of Arab citizens in the Knesset. The Joint List won 15 mandates, while Meretz only managed five. We cooperated together in opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The split in the Joint List weakens the opposition on the Left, although the Arab parties, except for Hadash, have never defined themselves as left-wing.

In May 2021, violence in binational cities like Lod, Acre, and Jaffa raised fears of a Palestinian–Jewish civil war. Why is there still no Jewish–Palestinian party today?

I believe that an egalitarian Jewish–Arab social-democratic left party should be founded. A party that can give people answers that stand for equality and for Jews and Arabs living together. Unfortunately, there is still great distrust among the Jewish public towards such a party.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke out in favour of a two-state solution at the United Nations in September. Is this more than just lip service?

In order to bring an end to more than 50 years of occupation and the associated control of millions of Palestinians by Israel, preparations must finally be made to resume serious negotiations. Otherwise, only lip service will be paid.

Meretz is part of the government that approved more settlements in just one year in office than any government before it.

I very much hope that Meretz will also be part of the next government. For a long time we have been calling for evacuating illegal settlement outposts, refusing to connect them to the electricity grid, and doing everything possible to bring about an end to the occupation.

Can the European Union help in this context?

Unfortunately, the EU is no longer a factor that recent Israeli governments have really taken seriously — except in the case of threatened economic sanctions. The European Union should make it clear to the next Israeli head of government that a two-state solution will become more difficult to implement by the day unless concrete steps are taken towards its realization.

What role could the United Arab Emirates and Morocco play in strengthening the Palestinian side? The two Arab states have recently established diplomatic relations with Israel.

After the signing of the Abraham Accords, which is economically and geopolitically important for Israel, I see it as the duty of these countries to promote a solution to the conflict — with the support of the European Union and the United States.

What do you see as the greatest success of the so-called “government of change” — apart from the fact that it has prevented a new term in office for Netanyahu for the time being?

The most important achievement of our government is indeed to have prevented a return of Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc to power. It is not just about Netanyahu as a person, but about a very specific worldview that he represents. In the end, our government succeeded in preventing a coup d'état.

Would Meretz enter into a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties after the election on 1 November in order to prevent Netanyahu again?

The next government should contain both Arab and ultra-Orthodox parties. Although there is a big gap between us and the ultra-Orthodox parties on issues of religious pluralism, we share common ground on socio-economic issues. Therefore, yes, we are ready to sit down with them to stop Netanyahu from returning to power.