Herzog outlines 'separation plan' to foreign press

Outlining his 'separation plan' to foreign media, opposition leader calls for unilateral withdrawals, takes pot shots at prime minister.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Yitzhak Herzog
Yitzhak Herzog

Israeli Opposition and Zionist Union party leader Yitzhak Herzog presented his "separation plan" to foreign journalists Wednesday, and claimed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had copied his idea by building border fences around Israel.

Herzog has in recent weeks been pushing his plan, which essentially calls for unilateral Israeli withdrawals similar to the 2005 Disengagement Plan, in order to "separate" from the Palestinians "as much as possible," as he put it to members of the foreign media at the press conference Wednesday.

Herzog made the comments while laying out his new security and diplomatic initiative that has caused waves in Israeli politics and sparked criticism from both within his own party and from the Right.

His plan comes amid four months of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming terror attacks targeting Israelis - violence that Herzog says amounts to a new "intifada," or uprising.

The head of the Labour-led Zionist Union coalition reiterated his view that he still wants a "two-state solution," but does not believe Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas are capable of implementing a peace deal.

As a result, he proposes totally withdrawing from Arab-majority areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and completing construction of Israel's security barrier.

Herzog said the Palestinian Authority must also be given more civilian authority in Judea and Samaria itself as part of "confidence-building measures", though he stressed the Israeli army would continue to operate anywhere it sees necessary in the territory.

Beyond that, he wants a security conference including "all moderate parties in the region" to tackle a range of issues in the Middle East.

"I believe that we have to be realistic," Herzog said at a news conference to unveil his initiative to foreign journalists.  

"And I believe that reality calls right now to understand that, tomorrow, peace is not around the corner. What needs to be done is separating from the Palestinians as much as possible. This is taking our fate in our own hands."  

He said his initiative was aimed at preserving the two-state solution while recognizing progress cannot be made until the violence stops. He argued that "no other party or leader has presented a plan that is realistic."

Herzog's Labor Party adopted his proposals on Sunday, though some from within the party and other left-wing politicians say they amount to giving up on negotiations and moving too far to the right in hopes of gaining political ground on Netanyahu.

Building fences

Netanyahu finished firmly ahead of Herzog's Zionist Union in March 2015 elections, but has since faced criticism over the government's inability to halt the wave of Palestinian attacks.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been at a complete standstill since peace talks collapsed in April 2014.  

Herzog's plan calls for preserving the main "settlement blocs" in Judea and Samaria and encompassing them within the security barrier, with the understanding that land swaps could be negotiated later.

Other Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria must be destroyed, said Herzog, who recently discussed his ideas separately with US Secretary of State John Kerry and French President Francois Hollande.

Palestinian workers would still be allowed in to Israeli sovereign territory through a permit system, he added.

"This is something that you supervise," he said. "It is not a 17-year-old getting up in the morning, walking to another neighborhood and stabbing a 16-year-old."  

Herzog also took a shot at Netanyahu, who on Tuesday while visiting Israel's eastern border with Jordan pledged to build a fence "surrounding the whole country."

"In the neighborhood in which we live we need to protect ourselves from predatory beasts," the prime minister said.

The opposition leader asked sardonically whether "Netanyahu wants to become Herzog" by also speaking about building fences - even though Netanyahu's push to build secure fences along Israel's borders predates Herzog's plan by several years, and merely secure Israel's existing borders as opposed to forming new ones.

AFP contributed to this report.