Despite the failure of a secret regional Middle East peace summit last year, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said he still believes there is a “golden opportunity” for such a summit to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He blamed the failure of last year’s summit on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he said “started melting down” after “consulting with members of his own party” who opposed to the deal.
“Clearly there was a golden opportunity — and there is right now,” Herzog said in a conference call last Thursday with the Israel Policy Forum.
But he added that he did not believe “the process is feasible without political change in Israel. Netanyahu is not willing to confront his own party or [Jewish Home Party leader Naftali] Bennett. … I don’t feel Netanyahu has any ability to do anything. He is controlled by Naftali Bennett.”
The secret talks were initiated after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Netanyahu in January 2016 in Davos, Switzerland. Those talks led to a summit meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, that included Kerry, Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. The talks ended in May.
Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union Party, said he has developed his own 10-point plan for achieving peace with the Palestinians. But, he said, the sides “cannot reach a viable peace in one move or instantaneously but in a longer process.”
He said there should a 10-year period during which there would be an end to Palestinian incitement and terror attacks in the area west of the Jordan River, while at the same time more civilian authority would be given to Palestinian residents “to enable Palestinian economic growth.”
“If during that period the Palestinians are united between themselves and would want to consider the declaration of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, Israel should consider recognizing that state,” Herzog said.
He added that Israel and the Palestinians should at the same time “open negotiations with the backing of regional states and the international community.”
Asked if he would consider a Palestinian state in the West Bank alone should Hamas, the radical Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip and which has vowed to destroy Israel, refuses to unite with Fatah, which controls the West Bank, Herzog replied: “That is one of the ideas discussed. But I would rather aim for two states rather than three.”
He acknowledged that current “developments in Gaza are not good. We see an upscale in tensions and 11 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. … The Palestinians are not giving us an easy time at all. They are driving us up the wall and the Israeli public has a right to be suspicious. But we need to separate our two peoples and move to a two-state solution.”
Herzog said he favors a regional peace summit because some of the countries are led by “younger leaders, they suffer much less of an Israel complex, and they are aware of the strategic importance of Israel.”
Asked about the Trump administration’s views towards Israel, Herzog said it is “in a learning process, and I’m confident it understands the intricacies” of the area.