With no prior warning, Knesset member Amir Peretz
dropped a political bombshell on Thursday morning by declaring that he is ditching the Labor
Party and joining Tzipi Livni
at her Hatnua
movement. A day after making the dramatic announcement, Peretz explains the reasoning that led to his decision and tries to dispel claims that he was acting out of vengeance against Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich.
Tension between Peretz and Yachimovich has been mounting for weeks on the backdrop of the former's adamant insistence that Labor should not join a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He further demanded the Labor leader to clarify the party's foreign policy agenda for the next parliament term.
"I waited until the primaries were over because I thought that demanding clearer foreign policy positions during the primary campaign season was inappropriate," Peretz said Friday in an exclusive interview with Ynet. "At each campaign appearance I made, I said that once the primaries are over I will demand clarification on both the political agenda and on the issue of joining a Netanyahu-led government.
Peretz and Livni on Thursday (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
"I wanted to hear what the red lines are when it comes to joining the coalition. After making impressive gains in the election, I made the request in the most legitimate of ways, but unfortunately my it went unanswered."
Peretz, who was elected to the third spot on the Labor Party's ticket, stressed that he never asked Yachimovich to upgrade his standing or guarantee him a ministerial position; in fact, he never asked for any personal favors.
"All I wanted was to know where we are headed," he said. "For me, the foreign policy issue is very urgent, and I wanted to know what I was going to market to the public during the election season. But my questions were met with a very puzzling response.
"It's unacceptable for a party leader to evade such basic and legitimate requests," he added. "When I reiterated my statements in the media, a storm broke out for reasons I don't understand."
Peretz near his Sderot home on Friday (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
In a joint press conference with Livni, during which the two announced they are joining forces, Peretz lamented he was the target of "unfounded hatred" from within his own party. This enmity, he explained Friday, manifested itself in the attempt by his fellow party members to present his aforementioned demands as a personal vendetta against Yachimovich – a claim he denies.
"It turned into personal," he said. "They described me as someone who disrupts the campaign and the effort to replace Netanyahu. No one can doubt my desire to replace Netanyahu and (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman,
and I have already proven this during Ehud Barak's
administration. That's who I am."
Peretz lauded Netanyahu as a "talented and serious man," but suggested he doesn’t want to join the prime minister's coalition due to the irreconcilable differences in their political agendas. When he asked Yachimovich for a meeting to discuss this matter, he was denied.
"I waited patiently, but in the meantime I found myself dealing with statements that made it clear that no one has any interest in discussing the party's strategy," he said.
"The situation reached climax when Yachimovich said that she has zero tolerance for what was going on. What did I ask for, after all? To discuss the political agenda? To discuss our red lines for joining the government? 'Zero tolerance' is something that you say when you talk about Price Tag acts, about violence against women… about terrorism. Does she have zero tolerance for ideas?"
Submitting his resignation letter (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
After being faced with harsh criticism and being made to feel as though he is "disruptive" to the party, Peretz decided that the time has come to part ways with Labor. He considered quitting public life and perhaps going into business, but his family encouraged him to join Livni.
"I had two options," he said. "I could keep silent, reach the Knesset and pledge allegiance. If I was a 'Yes Man,' I could have been appointed a minister. But I had to stay true to myself. I don’t want to waste my time, energy and beliefs on internal struggles. So when a mutual friend approached me about it I met with Livni and found myself facing an open woman who is willing to make sacrifices, the same way I'm willing to make sacrifices."
Peretz said that many have urged him to be patient and stay with Labor until he can assume the chairmanship, but he refused.
"Personal goals don't matter when Israel is in such a terrible state, a stagnant state," he said. "(…) I reached the conclusion that by joining Livni, I am making something new."
He could have gone home and invested his efforts in his family, he said, but his loved ones insisted that "doing for your family is doing for the state."
The veteran politician postulated that his union with Livni generates a new political reality – one that will win the Hatnua Party at least five Knesset seats that currently belong to rightist factions.
And Livni, he said, is a partner with integrity.
"She has proven herself by standing up for her beliefs," even if it made her lose, Peretz said. "It really is an important test. Tzipi Livni's values are very compatible with my own world views… I believe the chemistry grows stronger every day, and I have no doubt that soon our cooperation will make every citizen realize that the choice is between Tzipi and Bibi."
Peretz during Labor primaries (Photo: Benny Deutch)
Dismissing claims that he left Labor because he was offended by Yachimovich's disregard for him and wanted to take revenge, Peretz reiterated that he would never put his own interests ahead of the national ones. Nevertheless, he noted that no matter how hard he worked for party, his efforts went unappreciated.
Peretz further accused Yachimovich of compromising her values by focusing entirely on social issues and failing to address foreign policy concerns.
"I think that peace and a peace process serve the fight for social justice," he says. "One goal serves the other. Going to the public with just one goal is a mistake.
"Labor gave up its historic role as the leader of the peace movement. This cannot be done. With all due respect to Yachmovich, she cannot give up the vision of peace."
Firing back at the accusations, the Labor Party said Friday that "Amir Peretz's defection to Tzipi Livni's refugee party underlines the gap between ideology and personal subversion. The Labor Party, under Shelly Yachimovich's leadership, presents a clear agenda, clean politics and an impressive team."
The party further expressed misgivings about his decision to quit due to Yachimovich's refusal to declare that she won't join a Netanyahu-led coalition.
"He has joined Livni, who immediately announced
that she won't hesitate to join Netanyahu's government," the statement said. "Yachimovich and Labor are the only alternative Netanyahu and Lieberman."