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Can Israel’s peace movement rise again?

A new political party and a massive peace conference: could this week have been a watershed for Israel's beleaguered left?
Deborah Stone
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Thousands of people holding lights in the dark

Thousands of people hold lights at a peace event held in Tel Aviv last weekend (Image: Haaretz).

Published: 3 July 2024

Last updated: 4 July 2024

Israel’s peace camp has been in decline for years, and has been thoroughly marginalised since the October 7 massacre.

The political left has suffered major decline, culminating in its worst election result ever in December 2022.

Without the balance of a strong progressive voice, Israel has become more authoritarian, nationalist and hawkish under successive Netanyahu governments.

This week may prove a watershed in that trajectory.

Two things happened that have not happened for a long time. On the grassroots level, thousands of Israelis turned out to a massive peace event in Tel Aviv this week.

“The Time Has Come” event brought together 50 organisations representing all corners of Israel’s left, ranging from older, established groups like Peace Now to more recently-founded movements such as Standing Together. Some had a limited agenda to bring home the hostages in Gaza. Others wore shirts with watermelons, a stand-in for the Palestinian flag supporting the call for peace negotiations and a Palestinian state.

Renowned Israeli historian Professor Yuval Noah Harari gave a keynote address.

"We can argue about when exactly the Jewish people and the Palestinian people were created, but what is really important is that now both exist here," he said. "Unfortunately, too many of us refuse to recognise the oh-so-simple fact that there is a Jewish people and a Palestinian people here, both of whom have a deep historical and spiritual connection to the land and the right to exist on it."

Introducing The Democrats

The other major event happened on a political level. The day before the peace conference, Israel's two major parties of the left, Labor and Meretz, announced they had joined forces to form a new party, The Democrats.

The merger seeks to overcome the split vote which damaged the left in the 2022 election, pushing the peacenik party Meretz below the threshold for a Knesset seat without delivering additional seats to centre-left Labor. As a result, Meretz failed to gain a single seat and Labor was reduced to being the smallest party in the Knesset, with a mere four seats.

The newly elected Democrats leader Yair Golan emphasised this was not a merger but a new party designed to revive Israel's political left.

"Today we have built a framework that will serve the public as best as possible on the way to promoting elections and replacing the most terrible government since the establishment of the state.

"Israel is in its most difficult time and this is the time for decisions – serious security threats, the real danger of annexing millions of Palestinians and the undermining of our delicate fabric of life – all of these require courageous steps. Our public is fighting in the streets to change the face of the country," he said.

Whether these two events provide enough momentum for real change in Israeli politics and society is far from certain.

The left has a long way to go before it has any prospect of regaining dominance in Israeli politics. Older Israelis remember the Labor party as the natural party of government, the party that formed all but two governments from the founding of the state until 1996. But the party has been eroding steadily since those days.

A 30-year-old Israeli cannot remember peace negotiations and has had little experience of any prime minister except Benjamin Netanyahu.

The October 7 massacre could have been the nail in the coffin of the peace movement. Only 19% of Israeli Jews now believe a Palestinian state can peacefully coexist with Israel. Twenty years ago, just over half believed in a viable two-state solution.

It will be a long process for the left to regain effectiveness. The next government may not be led by Benjamin Netanyahu but it will be led by another Hawk, either Benny Gantz or Naftali Bennett. Religious parties, including the far-right Religious Zionists, are again likely to have a significant effect on the formation of a coalition.

But this week at least offerred a moment of hope.


What would a better Israeli prime minister do? (Bret Stephens, NY Times, paywall)
A better Israeli prime minister would declare the following policy on a Palestinian state: Israel’s government will work toward one that looks like Costa Rica or the United Arab Emirates. It will oppose and obstruct one that is likely to look like Yemen or Afghanistan.

'Israelis hardly have any true common denominator': an interview with Etgar Keret (Haaretz)  
For Israeli author Etgar Keret, even if things are falling apart, writing can still be a basis for dialogue. Just don't ask him to speak at antigovernment demonstrations.

Lessons from Netanyahu and Le Pen: How Israel's centre-left merger can halt the far right (Eitan Nechin, Haaretz)  
The merger between Israel's Labor Party and left-wing Meretz represents a starting point and a blueprint for how the left and center can resist the tide of authoritarian nationalism

What the day after Netanyahu might look like in Israeli politics (Raviv Drucker, Haaretz)
If Netanyahu loses, then who will the next prime minister be? Until recently, there was an answer – Benny Gantz. But now, that isn't at all obvious.

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.


  • Avatar of Tzak

    Tzak4 July at 07:29 am

    Israel tragically is destined to be at war for decades .
    There is the left in Israel and there are moderates in Palestine but they are low in percentage and would will be murdered
    if they sign a treaty of peace as was Rabin by a enraged Jewish assassin.
    The main task of humane Jewish People is to ensure the IDF is overwhelmingly strong but with some humanity .

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