Israeli lawmakers pay President Abbas an unprecedented visit in Ramallah

A third of the Israeli parliament has joined a new caucus promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They hope to give negotiators a 'tailwind.'

Abbas Momani/AP
Israeli MP Labor Party member Hilik Bar (l.) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend a meeting with Knesset members in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 7, 2013.

As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks intensified yesterday, with both sides agreeing to meet twice a week for up to eight hours a day, they received an extra boost of support from Israeli and Palestinian lawmakers.

For the first time, a caucus of Israeli members of Knesset (MKs ) visited the presidential palace in Ramallah Monday, which drew the interest of dozens of reporters from Israeli, Arab, and Western media. Their aim was to give a “tailwind” to peace negotiations and underscore the strong majority on both sides that favor a two-state solution, says Hilik Bar of the Labor party, who is chairman of the Caucus to Promote Resolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

“It was important to me to emphasize both to us in Israel, to [the international community], and to Palestinians that we have a majority in the Knesset and it’s really in the hands of these two leaders to close the deal and bring us peace,” said Mr. Bar in a phone interview after the event, estimating that 70 to 80 of the Knesset’s 120 members would vote in favor of a two-state solution.

The new caucus, which was launched this spring, is the largest in the Israeli parliament, with 40 members. In May, they hosted a delegation of Palestinian lawmakers – the first time Palestinians have ever entered the Knesset, which they had long avoided doing for fear of being seen as endorsing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, Bar says.

Yesterday, 11 Israeli MKs traveled to Ramallah to reciprocate, and were accompanied by a presidential police escort from the Beit El checkpoint to the Muqata, the Muqata presidential compound that Israeli forces stormed during the Second Intifada.

It was not the first time that Israeli MKs have visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata, however, and some diminished the significance of the event since nearly all of the participants were from the dovish Labor party. (Some members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party had to cancel due to the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the party who was widely considered one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation.)

But in a neighborhood where cynicism is easy to come by, fueled recently by a number of violent incidents that killed both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as a terrorist attack this weekend that injured a 9-year-old girl in the Israeli settlement of Psagot – it is worth noting that Israeli and Palestinian parliamentarians took the initiative to meet despite the fear, criticism, and hatred that challenge such reconciliatory action.

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