Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) announced his resignation to Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni Sunday morning. He said later Sunday that Israel “must replace [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” and vowed to work for the prime minister’s ouster.
Livni accepted Peretz’s decision to quit his ministerial post, and said the two would continue to collaborate within the framework of the Hatnua party. Peretz formally announced his decision to quit at the cabinet meeting Sunday morning. His resignation will go into effect after 48 hours, on Tuesday morning.
The announcement came a day after the minister threatened to quit the government if it did not change course, and said that he would vote against the government’s 2015 budget because it fails to tackle Israel’s economic inequalities.
Speaking on Channel 2, Peretz, a former Histadrut labor union leader, had protested the budget and promised he would “not be a part of a government that continues in this direction.”
“I will not support the budget as it stands today,” he continued, “in the face of the cries of [Israel’s] poorest, and I will not remain in a government that behaves as it does today.”
“Netanyahu is not the solution, but the problem,” Peretz charged.
“I thank you for acknowledging that your place is not around the cabinet table,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quipped bitterly in response to Peretz’s criticism of his government during the cabinet meeting.
Widening his criticism to Peretz’s Hatnua party and its ostensible over-moderation regarding the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, “With your people, if you didn’t evacuate [territory], you’ve not achieved anything. All you want to initiate is a jump off the cliff and a surrender… We’re facing a campaign of Islamist incitement.”
Peretz retorted that, “It’s not right that those who seek a diplomatic solution are accused of surrendering to terrorism.”
Labor Party chair Isaac Herzog, the head of the opposition, urged the entire Hatnua party to leave the coalition and help bring down the government.
“This is the exact right act, especially on the eve of [the passage of] a terrible state budget, and in the face of the hopelessness on the diplomatic front,” said Peretz’s former protege and ex-Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor).
However, Livni is evidently not about to lead Hatnua out of the coalition, since she has asked Netanyahu to keep open the ministerial seat Peretz resigned for another representative of her party.
Voting against the budget on Monday would all but have sealed Peretz’s fate had he not resigned. By law, a government that fails to pass a state budget must fall, sparking new elections or the formation of a new coalition. It is therefore considered a violation of the coalition agreement — which has the standing of a legal contract — for a minister to vote against the budget.
Peretz refused to say whether he thought Netanyahu was fit to be prime minister, but did say that “the time has come to start talking about alternatives to the prime minister.” The former Labor party leader also accused Netanyahu of being captive to right-wing extremists in Israel.
Coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) responded to Peretz Saturday night, accusing him of engaging in transparent political maneuvering: “Amir Peretz knows the rules of the political game well. If he doesn’t want to be part of the government, he knows that it is not hard to find the fax number of the Prime Minister’s Office in order to send in his resignation letter. I understand that right now, surviving politically until the next term is what matters for Amir, and apparently he is seeking his path in another political framework. But the Israeli public is not stupid, and it knows how to discern between cheap populism and maneuvers to survive politically, and true ideological positions.”
Peretz is leaving his second cabinet post. He previously served as defense minister in the Olmert government from 2006 to 2007. Peretz has faced off against Netanyahu in the past, when in the years 2003 to 2005 the former served as head of the Histadrut Labor Federation and the latter as a finance minister implementing painful austerity measures.