With peace distant, Israel must separate from Palestinians — Herzog
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With peace distant, Israel must separate from Palestinians — Herzog

Opposition leader tells AIPAC conference Jerusalem should take a tough line on security while pushing for talks without preconditions

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Isaac Herzog at the 2016 AIPAC Conference on Monday, March 21, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
Isaac Herzog at the 2016 AIPAC Conference on Monday, March 21, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Israel’s opposition leader reiterated his call for the country to disengage from the Palestinians while fending off international resolutions that fail to recognize Israel’s security needs, in the absence of a two-state solution. He was addressing a pro-Israel conference in Washington Monday.

Speaking before a crowd of some 18,000 attendees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, Isaac Herzog delivered his red lines for moving forward toward a two-state solution.

“We have to disengage from the Palestinians. This is the main challenge facing Israel,” Herzog proclaimed to light applause from the audience at Washington’s Verizon Arena.

Although he said that he doesn’t “feel that an immediate peace agreement is realistic,” Herzog stressed that Israel should “strive for direct negotiations with no preconditions.”

The embattled leader of the Zionist Union faction, who has seen his party plummet in recent polling and is facing an internal challenge from Knesset member Erel Margalit, combined tough talk with support for the two-state solution that has remained the hallmark policy proposal by Israel’s dovish flank.

“We must combat terror without mercy, no ifs, ands, or buts,” Herzog told Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz at the AIPAC event, while nevertheless asserting that Israel “needs to preserve the two-state solution and work toward it.”

Herzog pilloried recent attempts to bring resolutions to impose a diplomatic solution to votes at the United Nations Security Council. “We will not accept coercive resolutions that will try to impose solutions upon us,” Herzog warned, saying that “the international community never takes the security considerations of Israel in a serious manner.”

Herzog, like Vice President Joe Biden the previous night, claimed that there was a regional conversion of security interests between Israel and the Arab world, suggesting that the mutual threat posed by Iran could bring parties to a regional discussion.

The message broadcast by the opposition leader contained both optimism and warning.

“We are a resilient nation. We will overcome this wave of terror,” Herzog declared, adding that “we must deal with threats but also opportunities.”

While Herzog expressed confidence that Israel can overcome its challenges if it is “sophisticated, realistic and smart,” he warned that his biggest concern is that, by failing to address challenges, Israel is “losing the unique Jewish and democratic nature of the state.”

“We must preserve both,” Herzog insisted.

Herzog’s perspective aligned him with warnings issued by the Obama administration, including Biden during his address to AIPAC the night before. Administration officials from the White House through the State Department have reiterated the assertion that failure to reach a two-state solution will lead to a one-state outcome – a result that he described as dangerous.

“We should not lose sight of the final objective of reaching a two-state solution,” Herzog declared.

Unlike Biden, Herzog did not explicitly criticize the current government’s settlement policy – but he did manage to get in a dig at the notoriously frosty relationship between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.

Disparaging what he described as attempts to “shame” the United States, Herzog said that Israel should “forget that” and instead “be grateful for this relationship,” a comment that was greeted by applause from the crowd.

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