Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) tried during a Knesset debate on Wednesday to differentiate each other’s views on a two-state solution, which both support but say is not currently viable.
“Good morning Buji! I’m glad you woke up. Welcome to the Middle East,” Netanyahu said, using Herzog’s nickname, regarding the opposition leader’s recent statements that a Palestinian state is not immediately viable.
The prime minister recalled: “A year ago, I clarified that facing the great changes happening in our region and since all territory that is cleared is captured by extremists, it doesn’t look like we can implement the two-state solution under the current circumstances. And then you attacked me.
“And then, at the beginning of the week, something happened. Members of the Labor Party decided that the two-state solution cannot be implemented,” he added. “You’re the last ones to recognize the reality. We can’t trust your judgment to deal with the challenges around us.”
Netanyahu referred to his “Bar-Ilan Speech” of 2009, in which he called for a Palestinian state for the first time, and the conditions he set for it, the first being that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and the second that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.
“With all this talk of separation” – the word Herzog uses to describe his plan – “with or without an agreement, it must be understood that there is no security separation. Israel must continue to be responsible for security in the field,” Netanyahu said.
These conditions, he explained, are not for entering negotiations, but for a final deal.
“Immediately after the speech, many attacked me and called on me to give up on the principles I set. Of course, I didn’t take that risk, and then I was described as refusing peace,” Netanyahu lamented.
Changes in the Middle East in the last five years “proved who was right and who was wrong,” Netanyahu continued.
Herzog accused Netanyahu of being “paralyzed with fear” and not initiating steps for the good of the country.
“We have a vision, and as much as you try to kill it, it won’t work. The vision of two states is not dead, but it won’t happen tomorrow, surely not as long as you and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] are afraid to make a move,” he said, calling the Bar-Ilan speech “spin.”
Therefore, Herzog said, what Israel can achieve now is a separation from the Palestinians.
“You don’t want to separate from the Palestinians,” he said to Netanyahu.
“Maybe if we surround the country with fences, but the Palestinians will remain among us.”
The opposition leader warned that if Israel does not separate from Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the city could “God forbid” have an Arab mayor.
Herzog accused Netanyahu of being afraid of the right flank in the Likud and of education minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
“This government doesn’t have the courage or the will to separate from the Palestinians as I suggest in my separation plan. With this government, the Palestinians will continue living among us,” he said.