Haaretz (Editorial)
March 20, 2008 - 6:32pm

MK Haim Oron's impressive victory in the internal elections for the Meretz party leadership once again raises the question of whether the party will join the coalition. Oron, who is known for his good working relationship with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and who has won the esteem of the Knesset, should consider this possibility. Although the party's narrow calling requires it to stay in the opposition and to sharpen its political and social stances - to once again become the worthy leftist-Zionist alternative it was in the past (especially as the Labor Party has lost its way) - it should not shrink into this pigeonhole.

This is not the time for party considerations. On the agenda is a fragile, almost desperate attempt to advance negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which maintains unsteady control of the West Bank alone. This option, for all its failings, is the only way open for the near future. This opportunity, like others in the past, should not be missed.

Meretz's entry could breathe life into the government by liberating it from Shas' threats to dismantle it in the wake of diplomatic progress. It is important that Shas know there can be a government without it: By bringing in Meretz and garnering the support of the Arab parties, the coalition (even without Shas) would win a majority of 70 Knesset members. This is not an ideal majority, but it is far better than the alternative, which is a government of national paralysis. Meretz's entry would make it clear to Shas that its political-diplomatic extortion has its limits.

The prime minister, who has stated that the State of Israel cannot survive without a two-state solution, must now overcome the obstacles and bring Meretz into his government. In this way, he will transmit the message that his intentions toward peace are serious. Ehud Olmert and his government have not taken any practical steps toward advancing negotiations, apart from establishing their very existence. Meanwhile, time is running out and Hamas is only growing stronger.

Bringing Oron into the government will introduce a new voice to deliberations - that of someone with close and continuing contact with Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent representative of the next generation of the moderate Palestinian leadership. Barghouti is apparently the last dam in place against a total Hamas takeover of Palestinian society - something Israel and the world do not want. Therefore it is important that Oron's voice be heard in the government; perhaps he will even be able to convince the government to bring about Barghouti's release.

The terms under which Meretz would enter the government must be clear: rapid progress in the diplomatic negotiations and the adoption of practical and immediate steps to strengthen them - improvement in living conditions in the West Bank, the release of prisoners and the lifting of barriers, a freeze on Jewish settlement construction and movement toward a total cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Replacing the justice minister is also a necessary condition, as Meretz leaders already have said. If Oron insists upon these conditions, he can charge his small and fading party with real influence on the diplomatic situation; this, in turn, will help rebuild the party itself. At this critical time, it is incumbent upon us to bring Meretz into the government.


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