(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid took turns Monday displaying their centrist and perhaps even right-wing credentials to a hawkish crowd at a conference hosted by the national-religious newspaper Besheva at Jerusalem’s Crowne Plaza hotel.
Herzog unveiled his new plan for separation from the Palestinians, presenting it as intended to keep the settlement blocs in the West Bank. He said his plan would be a “bunker” for the blocs.
“My plan is aimed at maintaining Jerusalem, keeping the blocs and protecting Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state,” he told the crowd. “The big victory for Zionism will be when the world recognizes the blocs as part of Israel.”
He boasted of his connection to the Gush Etzion bloc, which has a settlement, Masuot Yitzhak, that like him is named after his grandfather, former chief rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog.
“Gush Etzion is just as important to me as the rest of Israel, but to keep it, there are steps that must be taken,” he said. “There must be a separation plan in which it will be clear that we will be here, and they will be there.”
Herzog’s plan calls for completing the security fence around the settlement blocs, leaving Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem outside the fence, and the settlement blocs absorbing settlers from isolated communities that would be evacuated. Herzog tried to persuade the crowd that keeping Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are home to perpetrators of recent terrorist attacks was not in Israel’s best interest.
“Arab neighborhoods like Shuafat and Isawiya are not what we prayed for when we said we would return to Jerusalem,” he said.
Lapid responded to Herzog’s plan for the first time at the conference. He compared it to plans raised in the past by former Labor and Kadima minister Haim Ramon.
“It’s the same plan the Left has had for 20 years,” Lapid said. “He agrees to divide Jerusalem before negotiations begin and he wants to take unilateral steps. It’s wrong to make concessions ahead of negotiations. The Left has made that mistake over and over.”
Asked for a response to Lapid’s criticism, Herzog’s spokesman shrugged his shoulders.
Lapid cited his late father, former minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid in explaining his ties to the Land of Israel and the need for a solution that will maintain it as a Jewish state.
“My father didn’t come from the ghetto to live in a binational state,” he said.
“States don’t give up their ethos. My father didn’t come to the Azrieli Tower [in Tel Aviv], he came to the Tower of David [in Jerusalem].”
Both Herzog and Lapid said they would win the next election and form the next government. Lapid promised that the nationalist camp would be part of the government he would form.
Lapid predicted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would fall within a year. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who spoke afterward, said the national-religious community had to take up the reins of national leadership and responsibility and to implement its values.
He said that 10 years ago during the disengagement from Gaza and the evacuation of the Jewish settlements there the community felt ignored, “trampled upon” and believed that no one took its standpoint into consideration.
“Today though we have a hand on the steering wheel of the national bus,” said Bennett. “We are going from a point in which our standpoint wasn’t taken into consideration to a standpoint where we have influence. The next step is leadership.”
He said that the national-religious community needed to be leading the government, but that the national, rightist camp of the political spectrum had been afraid to implement its values ever since it was first elected in 1977.
“Where do I see problems in governance? If you are elected to act against the establishment of a Palestinian state and you declare afterwards you’re in favor of a Palestinian state,” said the Bayit Yehudi chairman in a thinly veiled reference to Netanyahu.
Bennett insisted that the state required a combination of religious, national and universal values, saying that without the national and universal values you get could religious extremism like that of the Satmar Hassidic sect.
“If you get rid of the universal aspect of the state that shows concern for others you can get Duma,” he continued in reference to the killing of the Dawabsha family by suspected Jewish terrorist Amiram Ben-Uliel, adding that removing religious and national aspects of the state would create a rootless political entity.