Israel’s Labor Party on Sunday officially adopted the proposal of its leader, Isaac Herzog, calling for Israel’s disengagement from the West Bank.
In a move considered by many to be a turn to the right for the leader of the center-left party, Herzog last month called for the Israeli withdrawal rather than engagement in peace negotiations. Labor is one of the two parties — along with Hatnua — comprising the main opposition Zionist Union faction.
A statement from the party Sunday evening said that “for the first time in decades” it had “adopted a complete and comprehensive security policy outline.”
“Only a separation between us will maintain a Jewish majority in Israel,” Herzog said when presenting his plan to a Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv earlier in the day.
An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would prevent the “infiltration of terrorists and strengthen security,” he said.
Under his plan, the West Bank security barrier would be adjusted to include the major settlement blocs.
Herzog maintained that the “vision” for peace and the two-state solution was not dead, but that “it’s not going to happen tomorrow.
“Israel is at war, not going through a wave of terrorism; this is the Third Intifada. Every day another Israeli is killed, and unfortunately, the security situation appears to be deteriorating. I’m not willing to accept — or get used to — this reality,” he said.
“If the idea of disengagement dies, then so will the State of Israel — it will stop being a Jewish state. A separate state for Palestinians is Israel’s only chance to remain a Jewish, democratic country with definable borders. This is in our best interests,” continued Herzog.
Castigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as leaders with whom no progress is possible, he said: “Netanyahu and Abbas are unwilling to change the awful reality we live in today.”
Herzog said both leaders rebuffed his warnings about the possibility of a third intifada in August of last year.
“Israel does not have a functioning prime minister,” he said of Netanyahu. “In a house on Balfour Street lives a man paralyzed by fear. Underneath heavy makeup and a meticulous hairdo, you’ll find a frightened Netanyahu hiding.”
Herzog recently proposed his plan in Tel Aviv, at the conference of the INSS — the Institute for National Security Studies; and in Rome, to US Secretary of State John Kerry, where he said that separation is the only way forward with the Palestinians.
Kerry expressed interest in the plan, although the State Department said the secretary had no plans to visit the region to restart peace talks in the near future.
Shelly Yachimovich, a former leader of the Labor Party who is seen as a likely rival to Herzog in the next leadership race, leveled heavy criticism at him for the proposal.
Stressing the importance of negotiations, especially during the current wave of violence, Yachimovich told Israel Radio in response that, while Abbas may not be a “lover of Zion,” Israel may be facing its “last opportunity to speak with a secular, pragmatic, Palestinian leader. And we can’t lose this opportunity and play into the hands of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
Also Sunday, in an apparent bid to stave off a major challenge to his leadership, Herzog successfully managed to delay the party’s primary elections until later this year.
During the conference, party members voted in favor of Herzog’s proposal — to revisit the decision regarding the date of the leadership vote for a party meeting scheduled for May.
Sources close to the party told the Maariv news site that, at the May meeting, the vote was likely to be postponed again.
Labor has a long record of internal turmoil over party leadership, with more than 10 leadership changes in the last two decades. Herzog’s move may stymie possible efforts to unseat him by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Yachimovich and MK Amir Peretz, all of whom are rumored to be considering a run for party leadership.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.