Zionist Union leader Issac Herzog in Gush Etzion.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Gush Etzion and the large settlement blocs must be under Israeli sovereignty in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians, Zionist Union Party head Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday afternoon, as he pledged to renew negotiations with the PA if he heads the next government after the March 17 election.
“Gush Etzion must be part of Israel for eternity,” Herzog said.
He and running mate Tzipi Livni have positioned the Zionist Union throughout the campaign as the party that would arrive at a final-status agreement with the Palestinians that would end the conflict by creating two states.
The Palestinians have insisted that they would agree to a negotiated arrangement with Israel that is based on the pre-1967 lines, with minor land swaps that do not include the bulk of the settlement blocs.
On Monday the PA announced it would file a war crimes suit with the International Criminal Court on April 1 that is to include settlement activity. But Herzog said he believes that if he led the negotiations he could change that equation and ensure that the settlement blocs, including Gush Etzion, would be within Israel’s final borders.
“I will do everything that I can to resume the talks. I will go to Ramallah. I will address the Arab League,” Herzog said.
He spoke hours before his chief rival in the elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is vying for the settler vote – delivered a highly publicized speech on Iran at a joint congressional session in Washington.
Next week, Netanyahu plans a trip to Gush Etzion, where he is to visit the first settlement rebuilt there after the Six Day War, Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, which was destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion in the War of Independence.
For Herzog, however, the issue of Gush Etzion goes beyond politics and is highly personal. As he spoke with reporters, he stood at the site of one of the original communities of the bloc, Masuot Yitzhak, that was founded by Zionist pioneers in the 1920s but fell to the Jordanians in 1948.
“This is one of the places I feel most connected to in all of Israel,” he said.
Herzog explained that his grandfather, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, had helped create Masuot Yitzhak, which was named for him.
Herzog lay a wreath at a small stone memorial in his grandfather’s honor. This place, he said, was as significant for his grandfather as the Negev community of Sde Boker was to the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who retired there.
“For my grandfather, this was his Sde Boker,” Herzog said. “Gush Etzion in any final-status arrangement through negotiations that I would lead will be under Israeli sovereignty. This will be the true victory of Zionism.”
He charged that Netanyahu had endangered the future of the settlement blocs by continuing to develop isolated settlements. In the last five years, he said, the government invested some NIS 10 billion in small settlements that will not be part of Israel in the future.
As a result the international community treats any place over the pre- 1967 lines, whether in Jerusalem or the blocs, as if it were an isolated settlement, Herzog said.
“I will prevent and fix this,” he said.
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