Demonstrators rally to encourage Olmert on his way to Annapolis

Representatives from Peace Now and the Geneva Initiative joined MKs from Meretz and Labor to address demonstrators.

peace now 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peace now 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hundreds of members of the left-wing peace camp gathered outside the Prime Minister's Residence on Saturday night, on the eve of his departure for the Annapolis conference, to show their support for the upcoming peace talks. Representatives from Peace Now and the Geneva Initiative joined MKs from the Meretz and Labor parties to address the demonstrators. "The message was that if the prime minister came to a real peace agreement, he would have the support of the Israeli public behind him," said Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary-general of Peace Now. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to the airport to leave for the US, demonstrators packed the narrow sidewalk and a nearby street junction carrying placards reading, "This is the time - choose peace" and "Yes to a peace treaty." In recent weeks there has been increased criticism of the left-wing parties and organizations for remaining silent on Annapolis. Some of the demonstrators felt that it was still too little, too late. "Compared to what we saw before Camp David and other peace summits, this is nothing," said Sarah Ben-Ami, a Hebrew University graduate student who attended the rally. "Maybe if we were out there, as a stronger lobbying force, Olmert would have put more on the table... and people would be taking Annapolis more seriously." Olmert, who was scheduled to leave for Annapolis early Sunday morning, has received increasing criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum for attending the conference. While right-wing lawmakers have criticized him for taking part to please American interests, the Left has slammed him for not putting enough new issues on the table. "It is important to let the prime minister know that he has a real opportunity here, and that the opportunity extends beyond the summit to do real things on the ground to change things, to get the peace process moving," said MK Ephraim Sneh (Labor) at the rally. Also taking part were dozens of university students, who had embarked on a "three-day march" on Thursday around and through Jerusalem to encourage Olmert to make an agreement to divide the city. "If the summit addresses the need for compromises in Jerusalem, we will have succeeded, but if it ends in mere slogans, then we have failed and the extremists will only become stronger," said Nir Yanovsky, one of the leaders of the march. The students also orchestrated a "newspaper-exchange", delivering Palestinian newspapers to homes in Rehavia, while sending Hebrew dailies to Palestinian communities outside Jerusalem, to highlight the schisms between the two groups. As the demonstration took place, opposition to Olmert came from another front when he was greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by teachers and others protesting the ongoing education crisis. About 100 protesters entered the airport terminal Saturday night to demonstrate against what they called the lack of government action to end the school strike. Carrying signs that said the "government is temporary, education is forever," the protesters chanted to draw the attention of the journalists who were checking in to board the flight. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.