On Trump’s tailwinds, thousands to attend Tel Aviv pro-peace rally

Thousands of demonstrators were expected in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday night for a rally marking “50 years of occupation” and calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The event, organized by Peace Now, was set to feature speeches by opposition head Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, Meretz party chief Zehava Galon, Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh, Peace Now Director General Avi Buskila and others.

Musical performances were expected from Balkan Beat Box, Achinoam Nini (known internationally as Noa), Alma Zohar and Los Caparos.

“This Saturday we will take the streets to protest against the lack of hope offered to us by the right-wing government, which perpetuates occupation, violence and racism,” Peace Now’s Buskila said ahead of the rally.

“This is the time to illustrate to Israelis, to the Palestinians and to the world that a large portion of the Israeli public opposes the occupation and seeks to arrive at a two-state solution. A clear message will come out of Rabin Square: Yes to hope, yes to two states, no to occupation, no to annexation, and yes to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Channel 2 news reported Friday night that with US President Donald Trump pushing for peace progress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is again looking to widen his coalition by bringing in politicians from the center-left.

The report said that Netanyahu and Herzog spoke by phone on the eve of Trump’s visit to Israel this week, and have arranged to meet in the aftermath of Trump’s trip. Herzog, who met with Trump briefly on Tuesday, has said repeatedly in the last few days that he would back Netanyahu — from outside the coalition — were the prime minister to push for substantive progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is working to broaden his coalition because he wants room for maneuver should direct Israeli-Palestinian talks resume, said the TV report, which was not confirmed.

The report coincided with a new poll showing more Israelis backing than opposing a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines. The survey showed Israelis backing a two-state accord deal with the Palestinians, based on the 1967 borders adjusted to include the major settlement blocs, by 47% to 39%, with 14% undecided.

Trump reiterated on his May 22-23 visit here that he seeks to broker an Israeli-Palestinian accord. While Netanyahu highlighted his skepticism about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s readiness for a deal, he did tell Trump that “for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change.”

For his part, Trump was adamant in his final speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday that Abbas and the Palestinians “are ready to reach for peace.”

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who along with international negotiations envoy Jason Greenblatt has been tasked by Trump with relaunching the peace process, reportedly told Herzog on Tuesday: “We are planning to move fast in starting a diplomatic process in order to reach a deal.”

Senior ministers were quoted in the Channel 2 report saying that it was clear that Trump will be pressing Israel for compromise, and that celebrations on the right because Trump did not refer to Palestinian statehood during his visit, and did not criticize the settlement enterprise, were misplaced. “We’re all dancing on the Titanic,” an unnamed top minister was quoted as saying.

The Channel 2 report quoted Israeli ministers who met with Trump and his team saying that the US president and his key advisers drew three conclusions about peacemaking from their trip: That progress on the Israel-Palestinian front is central to progress elsewhere in the Middle East; that Abbas, with whom he has now met twice, is a viable partner; and that the notion that Netanyahu can’t make compromises because of the constraints of his right-wing coalition is false, since the center-left would support him.

Bringing the Zionist Union into the coalition would be extremely complicated — because of opposition from existing coalition partners and from many in Herzog’s party. Furthermore, Zionist Union is holding leadership elections on July 4, and Herzog faces a serious threat to his hold on the party.

Channel 2 suggested that Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who heads a five-member faction (Hatnua) inside the Zionist Union, could break away from Herzog and join Netanyahu, but noted that Livni is skeptical about Netanyahu’s readiness to move forward. Livni, who shares the sense that there is an opportunity for a breakthrough, is said to have established a good relationship with Greenblatt.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Trump “pressured” Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table during his visit. “There were very substantive discussions in Israel with both PM Netanyahu as well as President Abbas,” Tillerson told reporters aboard Air Force One. “He put a lot of pressure on them that it’s time to get to the table.”

Tillerson further said that Trump “very forceful” pushing both sides that a peace deal will require them to make difficult compromises. “The president was very forceful in his encouragement to both of them to be serious about approaching these discussions in the future and recognize they have to compromise; everyone has to compromise,” he said.

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