The decision by Minister of Environmental Protection Amir Peretz to include a map of Israel’s pre-1967 borders in a new planning document made headlines in Israel this weekend and took the far-right by surprise. Yet too many on the center-left have regrettably overlooked what amounts to an (unfortunately) rare action to support peace rather than just talk about it.
To understand the significance of Peretz’s decision, it is important to view it in context. The fact that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support the two-state solution is as well known as the fact that enthusiasm for peace between both peoples has drastically and consistently plummeted. That’s no surprise, considering some of the negative facts on the ground, which have been polluting the environment outside the negotiating room since the latest peace talks began.
Almost seven years since the violent Hamas coup in Gaza, few are optimistic about the prospects of a contiguous Palestinian state, even if the Israeli government does its share. Similarly, even if the PLO was to accept all the demands presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the complete removal of settlements (the population of which has tripled in the last 20 years) has become a non-starter.
While far-right members of Knesset work diligently and creatively to undermine the prospects for peace, moderate MKs are passive and conservative. Center-left MKs eagerly speak to the media and at public events, but in practice, they have not used their legislative power to advance the two-state solution. Dani Dayan, former chair of the Yesha Council, put it simply: while you (supporters of the two-state solution) were talking about policy, we (the settlers’ lobby) were busy implementing it.
Peretz has stepped into this void. While his plan in no way rewrites Israel’s borders, his progressive stance demonstrated that he will prioritize the areas within the Green Line for economic development. As a former mayor and still resident of the developing town of Sderot, the decision attempts to address decades of discrimination in budgets and national resources in favor of West Bank settlements that deprive lower-income Israelis in peripheral areas of economic support.
The condemnations of Peretz that followed from Bayit-Yehudi and Likud MKs weren’t surprising. The silence from Peretz’s allies in the coalition and in the Knesset—from Tzipi Livni to Yair Lapid—was disappointing. The minister of environment has done his share to depollute the negotiations, which have suffered from repeated attacks from the far-right, unrestrained building in settlements, and challenges to the government’s prisoner release. Supporters of the two-state solution would do well to follow in Peretz’s footsteps and adopt Dani Dayan’s motto, albeit towards an opposing (and more constructive) vision: talk less, do more.