Palestinian president meets Israeli left-wing leader

Ramallah:Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met the leader of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party in Ramallah on Sunday and both called for peace efforts to resume.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg made the trip to the occupied West Bank as she campaigns ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.

While Israeli politics has moved firmly to the right in recent years, Meretz has doubled down on left-wing policies, including a two-state solution with the Palestinians and progressive social policies.

The party holds five of parliament’s 120 seats and polls show it winning a similar number in next month’s elections.

“No matter what government will be formed, the first thing it should do is start negotiations,” Zandberg said when meeting Abbas at his headquarters.

Abbas said “no matter the radical positions that reject the idea of peace, we follow that principle (of peace)”.

He also said Israeli policies were causing a financial crisis for the Palestinians.

Abbas’ comments referred to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its recent decision to withhold tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is withholding $138 million (123 million euros) over the PA’s payments to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis.

Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel.

Israel says the payments encourage further violence.

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since the 2014 collapse of US-sponsored talks.

US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil his long-awaited peace plan in the coming months, but Abbas has frozen contact with the White House over its unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Trump has since then taken a series of steps against the Palestinians, including cutting some $500 million in aid.

Palestinian leaders call Trump’s policies an attempt to blackmail them into accepting a plan that they believe will destroy their hopes for independent statehood.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in recent months he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves without specifying whether that would mean an independent Palestinian state or a lesser form of autonomy.

Prominent members of his governing coalition, seen as the most right-wing ever in Israel, openly oppose a Palestinian state and advocate annexing much of the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s main opponent in the election is a centrist alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid.

Their Blue and White alliance, named after the colours of Israel’s flag, speaks of separating from the Palestinians, but does not specifically mention a Palestinian state.