Senior Zionist Union lawmaker MK Shelly Yachimovich leveled heavy criticism on her Knesset faction’s leader, Isaac Herzog, Sunday morning over his proposal to unilaterally disengage from West Bank territories rather than engage in talks with the Palestinians.
“With a coalition being dragged along by the likes of [Jewish Home party MK Bezalel] Smotrich and [Likud MK Oren] Hazan, the Labor Party must offer an alternative political dialogue, not just to give up on it and use the common right-wing claim that ‘there is no-one to talk to,'” she told Israeli radio. Labor is one of two center-left parties, along with Hatnua, that make up the Zionist Union.
Yachimovich, a former leader of the Labor Party who is seen as a likely rival to Herzog in the next leadership race, stressed the importance of negotiations, especially during the current wave of violence, saying that while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 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.”
Herzog had told Army Radio on Wednesday that the two-state solution is not a realistic option for the time being.
“There is a need to initiate security measures that match the reality on the ground, and that means separation from the Palestinians,” he said. Herzog went on to espouse a plan that includes completing the West Bank security barrier and “physically separating” the Palestinian villages surrounding Jerusalem from the capital.
The two-state solution is not a “realistic option in the near future,” he said, adding that should he be elected prime minister, his coalition would focus on implementing security measures rather than a bilateral agreement.
“I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution,” he said. “I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.”
Herzog made similar comments last week at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv and during a later meeting with French President Francois Hollande.
“I wish to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible,” he told the crowd of security and diplomatic professionals. “You exist there, and we exist here.”
The comments were largely seen as a sharp rhetorical turn to the right for the leader of the Zionist Union.
In her Sunday interview with Israeli Radio, Yachimovich also expressed support for Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in evicting settlers from contested properties in the West Bank city of Hebron, saying that he is a responsible and balanced leader.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.