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Meretz-Yahad, in its various historical forms, is a party for which the value of human equality is of supreme importance. This is the reason for its ongoing struggle to narrow the gaps in Israeli society, to provide equal opportunities and to deal with the failures of the free market. This is the reason for its ongoing struggle to recognize all the streams of Judaism, and its struggle for religious freedom and for freedom of religion.
This is the reason for our party's struggle to achieve equality between Jews and Arabs and for our perception of Israel as the state of the Jewish People as well as a state of all its citizens. This is the reason for our struggle to achieve environmental justice and sustainable development, while keeping the air and water clean and ensuring that environmental nuisances will not find their place in the weak periphery.
This is the reason for our ongoing struggle for human rights and their extension - to women's rights, children's rights, disabled rights, patients' rights, the rights of homosexuals and lesbians, and the rights of Israeli workers, foreign workers.
For many years, the campaign to put an end to the occupation has been led by Meretz-Yahad. Key figures identified with this party initiated the Oslo process in 1993, the Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings in 1995, the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and the Geneva Accord in 2003. The latter led, according to Ariel Sharon's own testimony, to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and that withdrawal has changed the political map in Israel.
Meretz-Yahad is involved in all of the issues on the agenda of Israeli society, and it is not afraid to speak its mind, openly and clearly, both before and after elections. Meretz-Yahad is the forerunner of the progressive camp, and on more than one occasion, it has paid the price for holding this position, even when many people know that the issue which we are fighting for today will become acceptable, perhaps even taken for granted, in a few years' time.
AMIR PERETZ'S victory in the Labor Party leadership contest was very surprising, and has breathed new life into the Israeli left-wing. He has taken his party out of the coalition, he has caused the elections to be brought forward, he has created hope for the strengthening of the Israeli Left, and he has stated his position unequivocally with regard to his commitment to the peace process and social justice.
A few days after his victory, he apparently accepted the advice of his close aides and promised that Jerusalem would not be divided, that he is not identified with the Geneva Accord, and that also in relation to social issues, he is not "Amir The Red."
Anyone who believes that Peretz's ideas are worthy of support cannot vote for the Labor Party, because there is hardly a member of Knesset in that party who is identified with these opinions. The Labor Party has become, in recent years, a party that has grown accustomed to the role of second fiddle in Ariel Sharon's government. It is the Labor Party which has given its backing to all of the military and economic measures taken since 2001. A large number of the injustices in the Israeli economy, including the widening of the gaps and the "capitalism of pigs," as Shimon Peres called it (in those long-gone days when he was still a candidate to be head of the Labor Party), would have been avoided had the Labor Party not been a member of those governments.
Had the Labor Party so demanded, we could have been, for some time now, in the midst of political negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Had the Labor Party fought against the renewed discrimination between Jews and Arabs in children's allowances, this discrimination, too, could probably have been avoided.
The election of Amir Peretz has not significantly changed the essence of the Labor Party. The election of Amram Mitzna three years ago caused many members of the Israeli left-wing to believe that this was an opportunity to change the look of the Labor Party. But the party promptly regurgitated him and raced back into the arms of the national unity government, into the policies of targeted assassinations, force versus force and enriching the rich and harming the poor.
We must also remember that Peretz himself did not wash his hands of this government, joining it in the previous term while his representative, Shmuel Avital, serves as a minister-without-portfolio and is responsible for "coordinating social affairs."
AND NOW - if Peretz means what he says, if he genuinely does not intend to divide Jerusalem and to implement a permanent status agreement in the spirit of the Geneva Accord, then there is no chance of his reaching a peace agreement. And if he decided to make false promises before the elections, in order to "reach the hearts of the centrist voters," then we are merely faced with yet another politician who cannot go to the people with his own truth, and after the elections, he will be forced to waive this truth or to get embroiled in political complexities and will be forever zigzagging.
Anyone who wants to strengthen the values which Peretz is talking about, anyone who wants to increase the chance that, after the elections, Peretz will do what he really wants to, will be making a big mistake if he casts his vote for those people in the Labor Party who would do everything to undermine his plans.
Meretz-Yahad, is a party which has never disappointed its voters, which has never acted in contradiction to its election promises. We pledge that if Amir Peretz stands at the head of the government, he will be able to realize the values which are acceptable to us. The stronger we are, the better the chances of fulfilling these values.
The true challenge facing the Labor Party is to reach - under its new leadership - segments of the population which have previously been distant from it, and to receive votes in the social periphery, which has refused to understand, to this day, that the NIS 70 billion that has been invested in the territories since 1967, was at its expense.
If all that Amir Peretz achieves is the transfer of the mandate from Meretz to the Labor Party, it will weaken the camp of peace and social justice.
Meretz-Yahad will run for the next elections on all its platforms. Some of these platforms are shared by Meretz-Yahad and the Labor Party, some are different and some are contradictory. We see ourselves as the natural partners of the Labor Party after the elections and, if it is necessary and we are asked to do so, we will not hesitate to set up a joint faction with Labor, to increase its chances of setting up the next government.
If Kadima sets up the next government, we will not rule out the possibility of a coalition with it and the Labor Party, provided, of course, that our fundamental requirements on the political and social issues are accepted.
In any event, Meretz-Yahad stands purely for peace, social justice, human rights and environmental quality. It remains untarnished, and anyone who supports Meretz-Yahad can be proud of himself, knowing that there is no chance of finding us, the day after the elections, in any place other than where we were the day before.
Can anyone say this about the Labor Party? Anyone who believes in our path has no real alternative.
The writer is chair of the Meretz-Yahad Party.
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