Amir Peretz: Netanyahu Should Announce Settlement Freeze to Prove Commitment to Two-state Solution

Zionist Union MK tells Haaretz policy conference that insufficient attention was being paid to Arab demographics in Jerusalem; Israeli Arab MK: 'I needed to listen to an entire lecture in which I was related to as a demographic problem.'

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Amir Peretz at Haaretz conference at Hebrew University.
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz speaking at the Haaretz conference at Hebrew University on June 8, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz said Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have annouced a construction freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements if he was really serious about the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"I don't believe Netanyahu's slogans and don’t think he is proceeding toward a two-state process," Peretz told a campus forum sponsored by Haaretz at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Remarking that Netanyahu's coalition is now even more right wing with the addition of the Yisrael Beiteinu party in the coalition, Peretz rhetorically addressed the coalition government saying: "You have your chance. Let's see you annex all of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. Let's see all those talkers."  

Then, apparently addressing Netanyahu himself, he added: "But if you are not capable of annexing, then get out and the more we move up the process the smaller the price will be. Anyone who says that we've gone beyond the point of no return on a two-state solution is mistaken and deceptive."

Peretz devoted a major portion of his remarks to demographic matters. He noted that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was elected to office with 106,000 votes while 210,000 Palestinian residents on the voting rolls in the city chose not to turn out to vote. "They could have decided the election and chosen their mayor."

The demographics of Jerusalem, he said, are being given short shrift. "People are more concerned about a stabber at the end of street than the demographic problem. It doesn't look to them like an immediate threat."

Arab Knesset member Aida Touma Suliman of the Joint List parliamentary faction responded to Peretz's remarks saying: "I needed to listen to an entire lecture in which I was related to as a demographic problem."

For her part, Likud Knesset member Sharren Haskel refrained from proposing long-term solutions, suggesting that Israel continue to develop the West Bank, for the benefit of Palestinians as well as Israelis. "We will continue to develop Judea and Samaria, bringing in new [residential] communities, additional infrastructure, roads, sewers, electricity, a university and [medical] emergency rooms. That's not just infrastructure for Israelis. The Palestinians also benefit from this. In industrial zones in the territories, we are creating a situation of genuine coexistence."

The Joint List's Touma Suliman responded: "This is discourse of the white man providing salvation to the barbarians, and unfortunately, it's discourse that is becoming legitimate. Peoples don't enjoy living under occupation. The Palestinian people are not beggars. The Israeli government wants the Palestinian to get to a situation in which he asks how he can provide a scrap of bread for his children and [that] he will then make do with that, but there is no people that will make do with that."

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy told the conference audience of his despair over a two-state solution. "The settlers have won. All of the governments have supported the settlement enterprise, and there hasn't been one prime minister who seriously intended [to implement] the two-state solution." And Levy added: "Those speaking today about two states do so only to buy time. I therefore think that all of the discourse needs to change and need to speak only about one subject—equal rights."