Zionist Union MK and former Labor Party head Amir Peretz released a statement aimed at US President Donald Trump Wednesday, telling him that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu would have the backing of the opposition if he should choose to pursue a peace initiative with the Palestinians.
Peretz, a former defense minister who is running to retake the reins of the leading opposition party, said Netanyahu should not fear coalition pressures, promising him a “safety net.”
The letter came hours before Trump hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, after years of moribund peace efforts, which some have blamed on Israel’s right-wing coalition government.
“I wish to assure you that Prime Minister Netanyahu has no reason to worry about his partners in the coalition,” he wrote. “The Zionist Union, as the second largest faction in the Knesset and the biggest in the opposition, will provide him with a parliamentary safety net for any progress made towards a deal with the Palestinians, without preconditions and without anything in return.”
“As a former Defense Minister, I am well aware of the risks that the status quo entails for Israel and I am therefore hopeful that your meeting today with President Abbas would bear fruits, and advance the prospects for the ultimate deal between both parties in the framework of a Two-State solution,” the statement read.
It was not immediately clear if Peretz had the backing of his fellow opposition lawmakers.
In a statement, a spokesperson for opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union, said he agreed with the need for a two-state solution but chided Peretz for sending the message.
“The leader of the opposition is certainly in favor of a diplomatic process, as he has said dozens of times,” the spokesperson told The Times of Israel, adding that his support for a peace deal had cost him political capital. “However, Peretz issued the announcement speaking only for himself,” he said.
“I do not think he has any authority with which to speak to Trump. The only member of the opposition who has met someone from Trump’s administration is Herzog, who discussed the issue with [Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason] Greenblatt.”
Peretz, who was roundly criticized for his handling of the Second Lebanon War, is one of eight candidates running against Herzog for leadership of the Labor Party.
Analysts have pointed at pressure from Netanyahu’s coalition partners, including the hard-right Jewish Home party, as a factor keeping him from making concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for peace talks. However, others have pointed at Netanyahu’s own intransigence as the reason behind the lack of a peace process.
Talks with Herzog that would have reportedly brought the Zionist Union party into the coalition instead of Jewish Home in a bid to push for a regional peace effort fell apart a year ago.
According to a report in the daily newspaper Haaretz, the negotiations failed when Netanyahu got cold feet and cut off discussions with Herzog.