Jerusalem Coordinator Maya Peretz hangs posters near the Knesset and the entrance to Jerusalem. The campaign called for Yair Lapid to keep his promise to promote the peace process and not go into a coalition with Habayit Hayehudi.
The Israeli government’s coalition formation period is over, leaving surprise winner Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid with Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, and Tzipi Livni of HaTnua to officially lead Israel’s 33rd government.
While the outcome is not what OneVoice Israel would have wanted, it is important to understand and acknowledge the effort OVI’s youth leaders dedicated to their campaign and how much work is still needed to bring the two-state solution and an end to the conflict to the forefront of Israeli policy.
Maya Peretz, the Jerusalem regional coordinator, was caught by surprise after the election and during the run-up to this announcement.
“[Yesh Atid] was supposed to be the biggest party representing the moderates in Israeli society and [Habayit Hayehudi] has very nationalistic views, which among other things calls for no compromises when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Maya explained. “I think that because of this surprising move it is also very difficult to predict what direction this government will go.”
For two months, OVI engaged in a vigorous social and traditional media campaign to keep the pressure on Lapid during the coalition process. They particularly targeted his promise to restart negotiations with the Palestinians as a condition for his joining a coalition, as well as his call to take the money from the settlements – putting a partial freeze on construction – and investing the money in Israel’s middle class.
OVI postered messages all over Israeli streets criticizing Lapid’s alliance with Bennett and submitted op-eds, letters to the editor, and ads to national media. Youth leaders canvassed outside the Knesset and Lapid’s house. They even danced the Harlem Shake in a satirical video aimed at the Lapid-Bennett alliance.
Key highlights included an opportunity to meet with Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, to discuss the immediate need for a two-state solution, as well as Dr. Patrick Magee and Jo Berry, founders of Building Bridges for Peace.
Maya believes that Lapid’s alliance with Bennett deserved every ounce of creativity emanated by OVI’s campaign.
“Sometimes it’s very hard to find activities that can really change reality and promote the two-state solution,” Maya said. “These actives felt like we were doing something with this issue and that we were responding to the current political reality. We wanted to make sure that he stood behind these statements, but we found that the bond with Bennett is causing him to betray exactly that.”
Maya suggests that the mood on the Israeli street is that Lapid’s coalition with Bennett resulted in support because its unexpected nature, as well as refusing to give in to initial pressures from Netanyahu.
Although the two claim they differ on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lapid and Bennett share the same ideas in other areas of Israeli society, including drafting the Ultra-Orthodox into the military and the status of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
This is yet another challenge for Maya. As the Jerusalem coordinator, she is a vocal advocate for the sharing of Jerusalem between Israel (West Jerusalem) and a future Palestinian state (East Jerusalem), something that isn’t an easy task sans election years.
“The fact that the Knesset is placed in Jerusalem makes it very relevant to these [unique] activities,” she said. “Jerusalem is one of the core issues of the conflict and has its own symbolic significance, which makes it a lot more important and meaningful to be active there in general.”
So what’s next for OVI in the coming months?
“I think we should focus on empowering the moderate voices in the government and reestablish our Two-State Solution Caucus,” Maya suggested. “We need to use it to pressure the policymakers of Yesh Atid from inside the government, all while ramping-up the pressure from outside the Knesset with our youth activists from all over Israel.”
Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaks about the need to act now for the two-state solution with audience members at Tel Aviv University. Serry criticized the potential policy of the new coalition of enhancing settlement construction, thereby adding to OVI’s momentum toward combating the potential consequences of Bennett's party membership in the new government.