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The ‘moderate’ alternative to Netanyahu is horrifying – and sobering

No Palestinian state for the time being – this is the position of Israel’s opposition Zionist Camp, as expressed this week by its leader and chair of the Labor party, MK Isaac Herzog.

Speaking on Tuesday at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Herzog presented a diplomatic plan for relations with the Palestinians, and a vision of Israeli government policy, were he to replace Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister after the next election.

At the heart of Herzog’s initiative is separation; in his own words, Herzog “wish[es] to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible.” He went on: “They over there and we over here; we’ll erect a big wall between us….Ariel Sharon did the right thing when he put up the fence that prevented the infiltration of suicide bombers, but he didn’t finish the job.”

Here Herzog is echoing his remarks at the annual Herzliya Conference last year, when he said: “I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.”

At the INSS this week, Herzog again revealed that he views the Palestinians through the lens of settler-colonial anxiety about demographics and birth-rates; he opposes the annexation of the West Bank, because “we don’t want to…give the right of return to three million Palestinians.”

But what about the specifics? Herzog called for the completion of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank around those settlement blocs that “remain in our [Israel’s] hands.” The Wall in the West Bank is illegal under international law, as stated by the International Court of Justice.

Herzog did not name the ‘settlement blocs’ that would be “under Israeli sovereignty”, though in a report on his speech, Israel lobby group BICOM referred to Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Ariel (located in the southern, central, and northern West Bank respectively). This would be consistent with the Zionist Camp’s election manifesto, and Herzog’s remarks on the campaign trail.

Along with the annexation of the so-called ‘settlement blocs’, Herzog also proposed completing the Wall in the Jerusalem area in such a way so as to exclude “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians” from “Israel’s eternal capital.” In his own words:

Issawiya is not and won’t be part of Israel’s eternal capital. Neither is the refugee camp in Shoafat. We’ll separate from them. We’ll build a wall. Terrorists won’t have access to Jews. Those who want to work and make a living rather than stabbing people – we’ll leave those for the consideration of the defense establishment.

Another core part of Herzog’s plan is that the Israeli army will continue to control the entire West Bank. “After a few years, if things are quiet”, he said, “we can discuss what’s next.”

The Labour chair urged an escalation in Israeli attacks on Gaza; for every rocket, he said, “they’ll pay a heavy price.” He went on: “This won’t mean dummy bombings of empty areas. We’ll employ an effective iron fist”, taking “harsh and severe steps, including ones directed at their leaders.” Herzog has previously criticised Netanyahu for not hitting Gaza hard enough in the 2014 offensive.

Despite assuming a leading role in the fight against the growing BDS campaign, ironically it is Herzog himself – his politics, and the fact that such a politician leads Israel’s Labor party – who proves the necessity of a boycott. As an editorial in Ha’aretz put it, “Herzog’s speech reveals the fact that there are no longer any differences between the world view of the large parties in Israel, not in their reading of the situation nor in the diplomatic horizon they envisage for this country.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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