Netanyahu’s Not Interested in Peace With Palestine. Is Herzog?

The leader of the 'opposition' is simply shadowing Netanyahu in describing his separation plan. Both take the Palestinians for granted as a silent third party, as if peace could be built without their consent.

Ilan Baruch
Ilan Baruch
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An election campaign billboard shifts between images of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, right, and Likud Party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2015.
An election campaign billboard shifts between images of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, right, and Likud Party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2015.Credit: AP
Ilan Baruch
Ilan Baruch

In his recent New York Times op-ed, “Only Separation Can Lead to a Two-State Solution” the head of the Israeli parliamentary opposition, Itzhak Herzog, dismally reflects one critical and chronic Israeli failure. That failure: Taking the Palestinians for granted, as if their consent were not a crucial component of peace, whether during a process of negotiations or leading to it.

Throughout his piece, as in his political conversation in general, Herzog shadows Netanyahu in discussing Palestine as a silent third party waiting to be instructed as to what it should do. It seems that in a desperate attempt to block the Palestinian initiative that aims to shift the conflict into a multilateral diplomatic space, Herzog advocates for unilateral steps that Israel should take, regardless of what Palestinians think.

Jerusalem is the starkest case in point: Herzog desires to cast ‘’28 Arab villages north and east’’ of the city into Abbas’s lap, ‘’leaving a unified strengthened capital’’. The Palestinians residing in what is marketed as a conceded area — not 28 “villages” but expansive neighborhoods that are integrally connected to the Jerusalem urban area — the 100,000 destined to be stranded in Jerusalem, and indeed the Palestinian leadership, will have no say in designing their own future. In Herzog’s world they do not matter.

The Oslo process was an historic effort to break the deadlock — sadly intercepted by opponents on both sides of the divide — launched by the late Prime Minister Rabin, who in spite of his doubts was prepared to embrace mutual recognition with Arafat and the PLO, a man and an organization dismissed hitherto as terrorists. This was a dramatic leap forward, leading to a negotiated agreement on a phased transition from occupation to two states, living side by side in peace and security. A Palestinian state was not mentioned by name, but anticipated as the reasonable and much hoped for outcome of a successful process.

In Oslo the Palestinians were respected as legitimate equals. They were given an opportunity to mold their future in line with their political vision of liberation and self-determination, put to the test in the first round of elections. The results demonstrated robust support for the choice of a political struggle for the liberation of Palestine over the brutality of terrorism.

Since Netanyahu took office, the Israeli internal debate over ‘the best scenario for the achievement of peace’’ has gone astray. The reason is simple: Netanyahu is not interested in peace with Palestine. He does not believe it serves the best interests of Israel. His ambition to expand the settlement project, while at the same time undermining confidence in a future Palestinian state with the old Israeli bromide – that security can only be achieved under Israeli control – ensures that talk of peace stays off the table.

Thus, Israeli proponents of peace err in endlessly discussing ways and means to achieve a breakthrough, ignoring the fact that Netanyahu has the power and maneuverability to dismiss any suggested peace process.

This will be the fate of any initiative, unless at least one of three major shifts takes place: the opposition in Israel gains ground and beats Netanyahu in the next elections; Israel reaches out to the Palestinian leadership with a commitment to bring the occupation to its end through time-framed bilateral negotiations; and/or the international community, with the EU and the U.S. at the helm, produces sufficient pressure on both leaderships, but firstly on Israel, by conditioning a most favored nation status on a negotiated transformation of Palestine/Israel relations from occupation to two states living side by side in peace, security and prosperity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has already proven he is not going to deliver. Unfortunately, Mr. Herzog does not seem to be willing or able to achieve any of the three peace conditions either.

Ambassador (ret.) Ilan Baruch is the Chairperson of the Policy Committee of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum.

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