Finish security fence near Jerusalem to stem violence, Herzog demands
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Finish security fence near Jerusalem to stem violence, Herzog demands

Opposition leader touts separation plan, says barrier around Etzion bloc being held up for 'obscure political reasons'

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

MK Isaac Herzog addressing reporters at the Jerusalem Press Club, February 10, 2016 (Vanessa Gabbay/JPC)
MK Isaac Herzog addressing reporters at the Jerusalem Press Club, February 10, 2016 (Vanessa Gabbay/JPC)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called for the completion of the West Bank security barrier around the Etzion settlement bloc Wednesday, saying that complete separation from the Palestinians was the only way to stop the current wave of violence.

His comment came a day after a jogger in the settlement bloc was injured in an apparent terrorist stabbing attack, as nearly five months of Palestinian violence mainly in Jerusalem and the West Bank persisted.

“We have to finalize the security fence around Gush Etzion. It’s an open area that hasn’t been completed for political reasons that are obscure,” the Labor party chairman told the foreign press during a briefing in Jerusalem.

Construction of the fence in part of the Etzion bloc, which lies south of Jerusalem, has been halted amid right-wing claims that it will leave out tens of thousands of settlers. There has also been opposition from environmentalists who point to the route of the fence near the village of Battir, home to terraced hillsides which have been recognized as a World Heritage site.

There has also been concern that routing the fence to include settlements will eat into too much Palestinian land, drawing international condemnation.

The separation fence in the Jerusalem Hills (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
The security fence running through the hills near Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“Nobody knows what the current route is. There’s a whole lot of political turmoil about the route,” said Herzog. “We’re seeing lots of routes, and lots of ideas. But it’s got to be completed. And we call upon the government to make sure it is completed.”

Herzog dismissed concerns that Israel finishing work on the fence would be harshly condemned by the world.

“The international community realized that it stopped terror dramatically and, in fact, it actually led to the ability to try to again and again in the last 12 years to reach the two-state solution. Once there is less terror there is more ability to talk.”

Herzog, who has touted total separation from the Palestinians as the best way to stem the attacks, said the complete fence would make for better neighbors.

“When you study the new wave of terror in depth you realize that only by preventing people from interacting for a while at least — until you calm down the situation — will you be able to preserve the two-state solution,” he said.

Completing the fence, which Israel started constructing in 2002 but never finished, is a main plank in a separation plan approved by his party on Sunday, which includes several other “security steps.”

“None of us likes barriers. And nobody likes fences,” Herzog said. “But at the end we need to preserve the lives of people here against cruel terror, which is unacceptable by any norms.”

The idea of a fence to separate Israel proper plus the settlement blocs from the overwhelmingly Palestinian part of the West Bank was always controversial but has proven efficient, he added. “This reminds me of debate over the security fence before it was erected.It was the same discussion. And when it was erected it brought down suicide bombings by 100 percent.”

Despite touting the effectiveness of fences, Herzog also took a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, during a tour at Israel’s border with Jordan, vowed to “surround the entire State of Israel with a fence.”

Netanyahu wants fences in certain areas but refuses to tell the Israeli public how he envisions the future borders of the state, Herzog lamented.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours the new fence along the Jordanian border with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (left) and the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen Eyal Zamir, on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours the new fence along the Jordanian border with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (left) and the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen Eyal Zamir, on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Asked by The Times of Israel whether he opposes Netanyahu’s goal of completing the fence on the Jordanian border, Herzog replied: “I have no problem with the border policy in the east. All I am saying is that if Netanyahu spoke about fences he should also deal with the fence that is between us and the Palestinians.”

He said that the Palestinians must also be given more civilian authority in the West Bank itself as part of “confidence-building measures,” though he stressed that the Israeli army would continue to operate anywhere it sees necessary in the territory.

Beyond that, Herzog 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.

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

While Herzog’s Labor party adopted his proposals on Sunday, several senior members of the party criticized the plan as it appeared to declare the two-state solution as currently unattainable, which, they argued, was a significant departure from traditional Labor positions.

AFP contributed to this report.

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