Israel’s Labor Party Votes to Disengage from Palestinian Negotiations

BY:

JERUSALEM—Israel’s Labor Party, traditional flag bearer in Israel of the two-state solution for its conflict with the Palestinians, veered in a new direction this week when it adopted a controversial platform proposed by party leader Yaacov Herzog.

At a party convention in Tel Aviv, members voted to disengage from the Palestinians as much as possible rather than seek negotiations since agreement is highly unlikely “at this stage.”

Herzog first outlined his plan publicly last month, eliciting outrage from many in the party who saw him moving sharply to the right—closer, in fact, to the policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than that of Labor Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. Both entered into serious negotiations with the Palestinians, as did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but failed to resolve numerous points of contention—particularly where the border would be drawn between the two states and whether Palestinian refugees would be permitted to settle in Israel.

Herzog said that a two-state solution was unreachable at this point but that it remained Labor’s vision. “A full peace agreement unfortunately isn’t around the corner at this stage,” he said. “It’s not possible to realize the two-state vision. We must work by every means possible to preserve that vision while separating from the Palestinians until it is realized.”

He said that Israel must transfer greater parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control while at the same time walling off Israeli settlement blocs to reduce points of friction with the Palestinian population. At the same time, Israel would undertake not to build new settlements beyond these blocs. Arab villages outside Jerusalem would likewise be walled off from access to the city and Israel proper.

“Israel is at war,” he said, referring to the current round of knife attacks and car rammings. “Every day another Israeli is killed. The security situation appears to be deteriorating. I’m not willing to get used to this reality.” He also proposed engaging in talks with moderate Arab states that are aligned against Iran.

Other party leaders, particularly those who intend to challenge him for the party leadership when the next primaries are held, attacked Herzog after he made his proposal. One of them, Shelly Yachimovich, a former party leader and future contender, said that the current head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, may represent “the last opportunity to speak with a secular, pragmatic Palestinian leader”.

At this week’s party conference, however, many of the rank-and-file Labor representatives appeared to accept Herzog’s proposal with enthusiasm. They accepted it on practical grounds since it is difficult even for moderates to envision constructive talks with the Palestinians at this time. They also embraced it on political grounds since the Israeli public has clearly shifted to the right in recent years and the Labor Party had begun to see itself consigned to the political periphery for the long term.

Israeli-Palestinian talks were revived in 2013 after four years of impasse under intense pressure from Secretary of State John Kerry, who made scores of trips to the region to keep the talks alive. However, after nine months they ended without any significant progress. There have been no formal negotiations since.

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