Continuing an apparent shift to the right, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Tuesday visited the West Bank settlement city of Ariel, and declared that it should be retained by Israel under any future peace agreement, along with the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem’s East.
With a population of some 20,000, Ariel is the fourth largest settlement (after Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim) and is situated in the heart of the northern West Bank.
Herzog, who has recently been pushing a unilateral separation plan having declared that a two-state solution is not currently feasible, said during the visit that the residents of Ariel had the same rights to security as those of Tel Aviv.
He said a fence separating the major settlement blocs from the Palestinian population would prevent terrorist infiltration while also signaling a red line beyond which Israel would not build. “The fence around Ariel is not a luxury,” said Herzog. “It’s a security obligation that the state owes its citizens.”
Reiterating his position on peace prospects, Herzog said: “If it isn’t possible today to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, it’s at least possible to separate the two peoples. We have to create a boundary beyond which there is no construction, otherwise the conflict will only worsen.”
Last month Herzog, who chairs the Zionist Union faction, surprised many observers with what was seen as a rightwards 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 deal with the Palestinians.
“There is a need to initiate security measures that match the reality on the ground and that means separation from the Palestinians,” he told Army Radio at the time.
On February 7, the Labor Party (which forms part of Zionist Union together with Hatnua) officially adopted Herzog’s proposal to disengage from the West Bank.
His plan echoed a similar proposal floated by another leader of a centrist party, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, earlier in the year.