In what he described as “a signal to US President Donald Trump” ahead of his visit to Israel next week, opposition leader Isaac Herzog visited the West Bank settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim on Thursday and said that it should be retained by Israel under any future peace agreement.
Herzog, who has recently been pushing a unilateral separation plan having declared that a two-state solution is not currently feasible, said during a tour of the city that under any future peace deal, Ma’ale Adumim must “remain under the sovereignty of Israel, as part of an agreement on Jerusalem that will remain a united city.”
Israelis widely expect that Ma’ale Adumim, home to some 40,000 in the Judean Desert just east of Jerusalem, will be annexed as part of a land swap under any future agreement with the Palestinians. Critics argue, however, that extending Israeli sovereignty to the large settlement, and a parcel of land known as E-1 between it and the capital, would effectively sever the northern and southern halves of the West Bank.
In the city as part of a day of visits to settlements with members of his Zionist Union faction, Herzog said he was committed to “separation from the Palestinians” but would not agree to dismantling large cities such as Ma’ale Adumim.
“We believe in a negotiated diplomatic agreement, based on the idea of settlement blocs with territorial swaps,” he said.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Herzog said that visiting the city ahead of Trump’s visit “sends a signal that we believe in the opportunity for peace; we support the opportunity for peace, but peace — separating from the Palestinians — does not mean in any way dividing Jerusalem or dismantling the settlement blocs.”
While Trump has indicated he will be more tolerant of Israeli settlements than the Obama administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the two leaders had yet to cement an agreement regarding policies in the West Bank.
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, but has not moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the same war.
In January, Herzog, who chairs the Zionist Union, surprised many observers with what was seen as a rightward turn by announcing that the two-state solution, long advocated by his center-left party, was currently unrealistic and that the best way forward was to focus on security arrangements rather than a final-status deal.
Since Trump’s election, Jewish Home party chair Naftali Bennett and rightist lawmakers from Likud and elsewhere have ramped up calls for the annexation of large parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians see as the territory of their future state, including Ma’ale Adumim.
Zionist Union’s number two, Tzipi Livni, said Thursday during a faction meeting in Ma’ale Adumim’s Castel Musem that in order to maintain control over the city, Israelis must reject the right-wing parties’ support for settlements outside of the main blocs.
“Ma’ale Adumim is part of the settlement blocs that will remain part of the State of Israel,” she said. “But in order for that to happen, we need to establish clear priorities and make clear decisions: yes to settlement blocs, no to outposts and isolated settlements.”
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.