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Herzog: I won’t build outside settlement blocs

Zionist Union leader says Netanyahu has failed to provide security for Israel, ‘and I’m trying to call his bluff on this’

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog speaks to CNN, February 20, 2015 (CNN Screenshot)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog speaks to CNN, February 20, 2015 (CNN Screenshot)

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog vowed Friday not to build Jewish homes outside the major settlement blocs in the West Bank if he is elected prime minister next month.

“I definitely don’t intend to initiate or enable construction outside the blocs,” Herzog said in a CNN interview, calling such a move a confidence building measure that will help “calm the surface and give a certain sense of change and hope” as part of his efforts to revive peace negotiations. He noted that the blocs, which Israel would aim to annex in return for land swaps as part of a peace treaty, constitute just 4% of West Bank territory.

He also castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security policies, implored him to cancel his speech to Congress next month on Iran, and vowed if elected to rebuild Israel’s strained relations with the Obama administration.

Herzog cited a “growing disappointment and mistrust about Netanyahu’s security policy, stemming in part from his settlement policy and his tense relationship with President Barack Obama. “I think that he failed and I’m trying to call his bluff on this,” the Zionist Union leader said.

“Security is not only at the balance of the gun,” he said. “It has to do with regional alliances with our neighbors such as Jordan and Egypt. It has to do with our strategic alliance with the United States.”

In that light, Herzog called Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress on March 3 “a strategic mistake” and urged the prime minister to cancel. “I think anyway the speech will be preaching to the converted,” Herzog said. “I’m worried about a bad deal and about caving into all sorts of Iranian pressure as well. But I think it is more important to rebuild confidence and trust with those who are really doing the negotiations, the P5+1 and the US leadership, in order to make sure they hear what we have to say.”

Herzog said Israel currently has “a unique strategic opportunity to align with moderate Arab states around us” and work together with them “in preventing dangerous, lunatic, horrific acts of terror coming from the east,” including by Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Herzog lamented that the settlement issue was drawn into the mix utilized by anti-Israel Muslim extremist groups. “There is a mixture of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism, and Islamic forces around the world are boiling and stirring it up together,” Herzog said. “Their aim is one: to eradicate us. But they are mixing this with anti-Israeli feelings based on the issue, for example, of settlements. We have to be smart and innovative about the way we handle it.”

Herzog said he would seek to “reignite” the peace process, starting with negotiating borders and security. But a lot would depend on the policies and positions of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“I am not naïve, I know exactly who we are dealing with,” he said. “I don’t know what type of Abbas I will meet… Will he be willing to meet and sit down and talk and move toward a process? Or will he be in love with unilateral action. If he is in love with unilateral action,” at the UN and ICC, “we will be there to confront him and his activity.”

Herzog also vowed to initiate an international process to demilitarize and rehabilitate Gaza — a “mini Marshall Plan,” he called it.

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