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- About the Authors
Isaac Herzog's Diplomatic Initiative: Can This Detour Be Reframed Into a Road to Two States?
March 26, 2016
When Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s opposition, proposes a new idea, it behooves all who care about peace in that region to listen carefully. Coming with the enviable lineage pedigree of being the son of the sixth president of Israel, the grandson of Israel’s former chief rabbi, and the nephew of its distinguished elder statesman Abba Eban, Herzog would be Israel’s prime minister today if not for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arab baiting just prior to its March 2015 election.
Herzog’s new plan regarding the two-state solution came to the attention of the American public twice in the early months of 2016. At the March 21 opening in Washington, DC, of the American Israel Political Action Committee’s annual conference, he was asked by David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel, to describe his “new peace plan unveiled a few weeks ago.” His answer there comprised a brief echo of a four-point proposal that he offered in his February 28 op-ed piece in the New York Times, “Only Separation Can Lead to a Two-State Solution.”
Herzog’s plan consists of four points. As presented in his New York Times article, the first point is that “the security fence currently being built around [the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank]... should be completed, yet with allowance given to ensure the territorial contiguity of Palestinian lands and prevent the isolation of Palestinian villages.” The second point extends the fence-building enterprise to walling off East Jerusalem; in Herzog’s words, “28 Arab villages to the north and east of Jerusalem must be physically and politically separated from the city’s municipal boundaries, leaving a unified, strengthened capital.”
The two additional points of Herzog’s plan cast a glance beyond fences. In a very important and potentially fruitful gesture, Herzog proposed that “beyond the major settlement blocs, Israel should stop settlement activities and remove outposts that are illegal under Israeli law. We should also transfer civilian powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority. This will empower it, improve its ability to counter terrorist activities in the West Bank, and facilitate institution building.” However, lest one be misled that this could mean an end of the occupation, he adds the caveat “The Israeli military will remain the only army in the territories up to the Israel-Jordan border.”
His last point is that a regional security conference including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf States, “should be convened in order to formulate a plan to defeat the spread of extremism and terrorism.” Additionally, such a conference “would help build the trust and working relationships necessary for future collaboration on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.”
In the New York Times exposition, Herzog was careful to stipulate that he and the Zionist Union reaffirm “our strong commitment to a two-state solution, and at AIPAC, he said, “We should always be in direct eye-contact with the ideal of moving towards a two-state solution.” To his U.S. audience, Herzog has stressed that the rationale for his plan is that the current Israeli and Palestinian leadership has made no progress in working toward two states, with the current spate of stabbing, shooting, and car bomb attacks against Israelis creating a security emergency and eroding the faith of Israeli moderates in the peace process.
Nonetheless, this proposal is a marked departure from Labor Party policy as stated in 2002, endorsing the two-state solution. What is going on? One strong possibility is that this is a domestically politically motivated effort to shore up Herzog’s as leader of the Zionist Union in the face of challenges by, among other contenders, Shelley Yachimovich, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldel, and former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi. He unveiled his plan on January 19, just prior to the Labor Party’s annual meeting on February 8. At that meeting, Herzog was on the winning side of a double play. The party adopted all four points of his plan as its platform, and it postponed discussion of a leadership primary until May, thus ensuring that Herzog is safe in his seat for a few more months.
Herzog’s internal rhetoric about his plan points to the conclusion that his intent is to siphon off enough conservative, pro-Likud support to his side to again have a crack at becoming prime minister but win this time. Any cosmetic veneer has disappeared when he has promoted his plan inside Israel. The speech announcing the plan was given at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, and security achieved through separation has been the sole emerging theme. In his remarks inaugurating the plan, definitely not intended to appear in the New York Times, Herzog said, “I wish to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible... They over there and we over here.”
Herzog continued on the there and here theme as he described protecting the settlement blocks, “The separation barrier will prevent attacks... The situation will be clear to everyone. We will be here and you, Palestinians, will be there. And us versus them (with us doing the building) was revisited as he talked about Jerusalem: “We’ll reunite the true Jerusalem without hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who will remain on the other side of the barrier... We’ll separate from them. We’ll build a wall. Terrorists won’t have access to Jews.”
Tellingly, the points concerning Israeli disengagement from the West Bank and an international conference have not seen the light of day in Israel, and the separation scheme, especially as applied to Jerusalem, has taken on a life of its own. Great enthusiasm (among Israeli Jews) has arisen to roll back Israel’s 1968 annexation of East Jerusalem by fencing it off. The cause has been taken up by a former Labor protégé of Herzog’s, Haim Ramon, who has created an organization called “Saving Jewish Jerusalem” and is giving bus tours showing the contours of a new, ethnically purified city.