Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz resigned with a bang on Sunday, arguing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting.
The morning after Peretz told Channel 2’s Meet the Press of his intentions, Peretz officially informed Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the leader of his party, Hatnua, that he is leaving the ministry, but that he plans to remain in the party and the coalition.
At the opening of the meeting Netanyahu said to Peretz: “Thank you for realizing your place is not at the cabinet table.
“You think, ‘If you did not evacuate [settlements], you didn’t do anything.’ You think the only initiative is to jump off a cliff and give up,” the prime minister said. “We are at the height of an incitement campaign by radical Islamists who not only deny our right to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, but to our existence as individuals.”
Ministers should unite to fight these phenomena, Netanyahu said.
Peretz, who was defense minister during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, said, “I fought terrorism determinedly, no less than you did, against Hezbollah and Hamas, and I believed in and worked on a diplomatic process as part of my understanding of Israeli security.”
The departing minister added that there have been problems in all areas – diplomatic, social and economic – but Netanyahu looked for people on whom to blame them, rather than solutions.
“The prime minister’s job is to be above political needs and show responsibility toward the citizens of Israel,” he said.
Peretz is known for his left-wing stances on socioeconomic matters and was the only minister to vote against the 2015 draft state budget.
However, if he remained a minister, he would not have been able to vote against the budget in the Knesset plenum this week, because it was approved as government policy.
Speaking at a press conference later on Sunday, Peretz said he could not imagine himself voting with the government “on an anti-social budget... that will bring hundreds of thousands of children to poverty.”
He also announced plans to campaign against Netanyahu.
“A PR campaign somehow convinced Israelis that there is no alternative to Netanyahu. Are we living in a monarchy? There is an alternative,” he declared. “I reached the conclusion that we have to replace Netanyahu and I will do all I can to create the alternative.”
Peretz said he will “act in the Knesset, out of the Knesset, in the coalition and in the opposition to turn to all people in Israel who want to defend Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and want a country to take a real look at its citizens and not treat them cynically.”
The departing minister explained that, while he and Netanyahu were on opposite sides politically for many years, he had wanted to give the prime minister a chance and, when negotiations with the Palestinians were ongoing, he felt he had made the right decision.
“Even when negotiations are fruitless, their existence is an asset to Israel,” he posited.
Then, during Operation Protective Edge this summer, Peretz said he showed support for Netanyahu and the IDF and its soldiers.
In the past three months, however, the government changed, he said.
“Netanyahu went back to the extremist statements form his political past, showing he does not want a [peace] agreement,” he said. “He’s not the solution, he’s the problem.”
Netanyahu did not give in to extremists; rather that the prime minister is an extremist himself and believes what they are saying, Peretz said he concluded.
“We need to build a more moderate alternative,” he said. “A prime minister cannot keep blaming people for his problems. He has to find solutions, but Netanyahu has no solutions, because he is the problem and must be replaced.”
Peretz clarified that his resignation was a personal decision, not made in tandem with his party.
“It’s no secret my socio-economic positions are different from those of Hatnua. I couldn’t continue in this government. I won’t vote for anything that contradicts my personal beliefs,” he said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said that Peretz’s resignation marks the beginning of the end of the Netanyahu government.
“It’s clear to all that the gong was sounded. Peretz’s place, like all of Hatnua, is in the center-left camp, which Labor will lead in the next election and replace the government,” he said.
Whether Peretz’s resignation will cause a domino effect remains to be seen, but Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid said his party needs to reexamine whether it will stay in the coalition.
“Benjamin Netanyahu is moving to the Right, apparently because of considerations within his party,” Peri told Army Radio. “In the coming weeks, we will undoubtedly have to watch where the wind blows and where things are going.”
Meanwhile, Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee chairman Amram Mitzna, who was second on Hatnua’s candidates list and openly expressed disappointment when he was not made a minister after the last election, had no comment.
On the other hand, Mitzna, who is also a former Labor chairman, called for his current party to leave the coalition several times in the months since US-mediated negotiations with the Palestinians broke down earlier this year.
Throughout his nearly 20 months as environmental protection minister, Peretz has championed the slogan that “it is impossible to separate environmental and social justice,” and his campaigns within the ministry have followed suit. During an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, he expressed with pride that this belief has become “part of the awareness of the Israeli public” and is being realized in a practical sense.
Many of the changes Peretz led involved minority or periphery communities, such as ongoing efforts to bring waste infrastructure to Israeli- Arab towns and Beduin villages, in particular.
Another recent accomplishment involved the government approval of a NIS 45 million budget for addressing environmental deficiencies for residents of the South. As part of that budget, the ministry will establish agricultural- waste management systems, improve garbage collection in Sderot and replace asbestos roofs endangering homes close to the Gaza border.
The eradication of free plastic bags from grocery stores was a priority in Peretz’s administration, and legislation on the subject passed in its first Knesset reading two weeks ago.
Once the legislation receives final approval, bags will cost Israelis NIS 0.30 and they will receive multi-use sacks free of charge.