WASHINGTON – Israel has a “unique opportunity” for negotiations on a regional framework, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog told attendees at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum Monday in the US capital.
“Today there is a golden opportunity, which the United States should lead and which the international community should support with no reservations,” Herzog declared. “With brave and bold leadership, we can grasp this opportunity and create a better future for us, and our children.”
Herzog said that at the funeral of Dafna Meir, a young woman and mother who was murdered in January by a knife-wielding Palestinian teenager, “something broke inside of me.” The embattled opposition leader said that the incident led him to question why Israel waits “for the initiatives of others that do not always serve our interests” rather than initiating its own peace efforts.
Herzog described an Israel beset by terror and in the “midst of a national sense of futility.”
“I identified a different course and an opportunity for real change in the shape of a huge regional opportunity for peace. I worked on it with global and regional leaders directly and indirectly as others have done in recent months,” Herzog said.
“While the idea of cooperating with moderate Arab countries had long been discussed, it appeared that this could come to fruition,” he continued, arguing that “the notion that a group of moderate Arab nations were willing to engage in a process with Israel, marks a unique opportunity.”
Herzog listed Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain as “potential partners” toward establishing a “stabilizing force” in the region.
The opposition leader noted that the coming year would mark both the 70th anniversary of the partition of British Mandatory Palestine and the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. Herzog said that the anniversary of the latter was “a time for national introspection and soul searching.”
“It must serve as a wake-up call that Israel must now take its fate into its own hands and shape its own future,” he warned. “While we truly have a remarkable country…it is clear that a lack of progress in separating from the Palestinians presents a serious demographic threat to its future.”
Herzog repeated warnings already heard from Israeli opposition members and the Obama administration that the lack of a path toward peace puts Israel on a precarious path toward a one-state solution.
“Gradually we are finding ourselves dragged towards a binational disaster,” Herzog warned. “In the meanwhile, violence continues to flourish, the delegitimization of Israel gathers steam, and the international community grows increasingly irritated by the reality in the West Bank.”
Herzog offered an alternative, more hopeful scenario in what he described as a Sunni coalition, which he compared to NATO in its capacity to unite around shared threats.
“These moderate Arab states are grouping into something of an informal Sunni Arab version of a regional NATO, which identifies the same threats as Israel,” he said.
“A new configuration has formed in the region in order to tackle the spread of hatred and violence in the region,” he continued, listing Islamic State and Iran as shared threats.
The new regional leaders, he said, “suffer less from the ‘Israel complex’ of their predecessors. They are bolder, younger, more independent, and willing to work with Israel, so long as it serves their national interest.”
Herzog insisted that these leaders were prepared both “to back the national aspirations of the Palestinians, and recognize the security concerns of Israel.”
They “see diplomatic and security coordination with Israel as a potentially positive development,” he argued, but also believe that “Israel’s continued conflict with the Palestinians requires a solution, or at least some substantial progress, as a condition for upgrading these relations.”
“While many previous attempts have failed, the paradigm is now changing in the region and the opportunity [for regional peace talks] looks increasingly possible,” Herzog insisted.
“These Arab countries want to see Israel and the Palestinians come to a resolution as part of their own agenda, and have a direct incentive to build confidence and push the Palestinians towards compromise based on the spirit and elements of the Arab peace initiative.”
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