Thousands of people participated in a pro-peace demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday to mark “50 years of occupation,” under the banner of “Two States — One Hope.”
Estimates of the crowd size varied between 15,000 and 20,000. Organizers claimed around 30,000 demonstrators were present.
At the protest, leaders of the Israeli left lambasted the country’s right-wing government and its policies and called for new, bold leadership that would take steps towards peace.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called on the leaders of the Yesh Atid and Kulanu parties to “put ego aside and join together into one big political bloc” that could replace the current government. (Centrist Yesh Atid is in the opposition; center-right Kulanu is in the coalition.)
“Together, only together… can we win, and come to power,” he said. Taking the stage, Herzog, whose leadership of the center-left Zionist Union will be challenged by several candidates in a vote on July 4, was met with audible booing from some in the crowd.
Herzog spoke of the reported efforts last year to push forward a secret regional peace deal, which he has claimed were thwarted by Netanyahu’s political insecurities.
“Not many months ago, Israel stood before a historic opportunity. We could have launched an unprecedented regional negotiation that would have boosted Israel’s security, that would have brought us out of isolation, that would have created and unprecedented regional coalition and would have led to peace,” he said.
“And why was this opportunity missed? Because the leadership Israel has today is motivated primarily by fear — fear of change, fear of daring, fear of initiative and fear of hope.”
In a letter read out at the event, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “The time has come to live — both you and us — in peace, harmony, security and stability.
“The only way way to end the conflict and the fight against terror in the region and the world is a two-state solution based on the June 1967 borders, Palestine by Israel’s side,” Abbas said in the note. “Our duty towards future generations is to conclude a peace of the brave.”
Meretz leader Zehava Galon said Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu is lying when tells us, for a decade now, that he can manage the conflict. That ‘there is no other choice’ and ‘no partner.’ He plays the victim, shows no courage or diplomatic initiative and flees from responsibility and risk-taking. This lie must be eliminated — because it is only meant for his political survival.
“Despite Netanyahu’s lies, the Israeli public supports compromise, ending the occupation and says yes to two states for two peoples,” she added.
Peace Now Director-General Avi Buskila said 50 years of pro-settlement policies were “endangering our future and burying the Zionist dream” while undermining Israeli democracy.
“For years we have allowed a hollow, irresponsible and out-of-control leadership to push us into the abyss,” Buskila said. “Today we are putting an end to it… today we, the citizens of democratic Israel, rise from the trenches to defend our home.
“This is the time to illustrate to Israelis, to the Palestinians and to the world that a large portion of the Israeli public opposes the occupation and seeks to arrive at a two-state solution,” said Buskila. “A clear message will come out of Rabin Square: Yes to hope, yes to two states, no to occupation, no to annexation, and yes to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List, said “I chose to be here today, because I believe we must find a way to fight together.
“Now, in the face of the increasingly radical right-wing government, a government that uses minorities as a punching bag, a government that incites again and again… now, in the face of annexation plots, and racist and anti-democratic legislation… we must form a public democratic camp around our common principles — with a clear call for the end of the occupation, for equality, democracy and social justice for all citizens.”
Odeh said that for coexistence to be possible, “I must respect and accept your national identity. You must do so as well. This partnership can only be built from mutual respect and an acceptance of the identities of each and every one of us.”
He added: “In order to bring about change, we need courage. We must have the courage to fight together for the future we believe in.”
Channel 2 news reported Friday night that with US President Donald Trump pushing for peace progress, Netanyahu is again looking to widen his coalition by bringing in politicians from the center-left.
The report said that Netanyahu and Herzog spoke by phone on the eve of Trump’s visit to Israel this week, and have arranged to meet in the aftermath of Trump’s trip. Herzog, who met with Trump briefly on Tuesday, has said repeatedly in the last few days that he would back Netanyahu — from outside the coalition — were the prime minister to push for substantive progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu is working to broaden his coalition because he wants room for maneuver should direct Israeli-Palestinian talks resume, said the TV report, which was not confirmed.
Ahead of the rally Saturday, Herzog denied there were any talks on the Zionist Union joining the coalition.
“If there is a [peace] process and it is serious, ask me about supporting the initiative from the opposition, not from the government,” he said.
The report coincided with a new poll showing more Israelis backing than opposing a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines. The survey showed Israelis supporting a two-state accord deal with the Palestinians, based on the 1967 borders adjusted to include the major settlement blocs, by 47% to 39%, with 14% undecided.
Trump reiterated on his May 22-23 visit here that he seeks to broker an Israeli-Palestinian accord. While Netanyahu highlighted his skepticism about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s readiness for a deal, he did tell Trump that “for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change.”
For his part, Trump was adamant in his final speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday that Abbas and the Palestinians “are ready to reach for peace.”
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who along with international negotiations envoy Jason Greenblatt has been tasked by Trump with relaunching the peace process, reportedly told Herzog on Tuesday: “We are planning to move fast in starting a diplomatic process in order to reach a deal.”
Senior ministers were quoted in the Channel 2 report saying that it was clear that Trump will be pressing Israel for compromise, and that celebrations on the right because Trump did not refer to Palestinian statehood during his visit, and did not criticize the settlement enterprise, were misplaced. “We’re all dancing on the Titanic,” an unnamed top minister was quoted as saying.
The Channel 2 report quoted Israeli ministers who met with Trump and his team saying that the US president and his key advisers drew three conclusions about peacemaking from their trip: That progress on the Israel-Palestinian front is central to progress elsewhere in the Middle East; that Abbas, with whom he has now met twice, is a viable partner; and that the notion that Netanyahu can’t make compromises because of the constraints of his right-wing coalition is false, since the center-left would support him.