“The Left has returned to the square!” a Peace Now activist chanted to a crowd of thousands of cheering Israelis on Saturday night. “Two states, not one less!” another Peace Now activist yelled.
Fifty years after Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 War, left-wing Israelis turned out in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv for a Peace Now-organized rally against what they termed Israel’s “dangerous path toward a binational state.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said it was “heartwarming” to see how many people still hoped “to see the State of Israel marching in a different direction than the one it is today.”
“The only response to this hope is two states for two peoples,” he told the crowd.
“Whoever thought the chance for hope could be buried in the US election understands today that, even though there’s a different president, America didn’t change the reality. This week, we saw an American president determined to make peace between us and the Palestinians.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, is too afraid to take steps toward peace.
“The government of fear that Israel has must be replaced. We not only can do it, we must!” he declared. “The sacrifice of generations of young people to defend the state cannot stand in our merit without the uncompromising struggle to fulfill their will to keep Israel Jewish and democratic. There is nothing Zionist about a binational state. There is nothing Jewish in an endless conflict.
As it says [in Psalms]: ‘Seek peace and pursue it.’” Herzog’s proposal of a “political bloc” with Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was met with boos from many in the crowd.
A letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was read to the crowd: “The time has come for the State of Israel to end the occupation and recognize our country,” he said to applause.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said “Netanyahu has been lying for a decade when he says he can ‘manage the conflict’ because ‘there’s no other choice’ and ‘there’s no partner.’ He’s playing the victim, showing zero courage or initiative and running away from responsibility and taking risks.
“This lie must be destroyed, because it’s meant only for his political survival,” she said.
Shay Dror, 71, who commuted from Jerusalem for the rally said: “I have no doubt we are strong enough to bring two states. There is no way we can continue to control more than one million people with no human rights.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh was among those in the crowd.
“These determined people who showed up here is what gives me hope,” he said.
Along with Peace Now, activists from the Labor Party, Meretz Party and their youth branches were chanting and banging drums. Kids carried purple balloons reading “peace” in Hebrew and Arabic.
“Jews and Arabs don’t need to be enemies,” one group of Labor youth activists yelled.
Bat Sheva Marc, 63, from Hod Hasharon said she felt obligated to attend the rally. “You can’t sit at home and do nothing,” she said.
Yet, she worries that the younger generation has become less “idealistic” and may be less committed to push for a two-state solution.
“My kids were laughing when they heard I was coming,” she said. “They asked ‘why do you still believe?’” Divisive Likud MK Oren Hazan made an appearance on the outskirts of the rally, filming himself doing so on Facebook.
Hazan said he came to see how “the other side” reacts to its opponents, calling on them not to be violent.
“Two states for two nations – I think it’s a delusional dream...
I came in good spirits because this is a democracy. Let’s see how they accept me,” Hazan said to the camera. “Two states or not, we are one, unique and special nation.”