“For the sake of Tzion I will not be silent, For the sake of Yerushalayim I will not be still, Till her victory emerge resplendent And her triumph like a flaming torch.” Isaiah 62:1 (The Israel Bible™)
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog promised the Saudi website Elaph that his Labor Party and its allies would topple the right-wing Netanyahu government and lead to a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority. He appealed to the Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, to work on breaking the impasse in the peace process, because—he intimated—the Israeli people are ready for peace.
And, pointing out that there are new and creative solutions and ideas on Jerusalem, the former Labor Party chairman invited Saudi Arabia to assume a special status in running the Holy Places in Jerusalem, and interpreted President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem to mean that “the limits of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are determined by negotiations.”
Herzog called on the international community to take an example from the Jordanian King which is hosting one million Syrian refugees, despite his country’s economic condition. He also praised the positions of the Saudi Crown Prince and the Emirati leaders and described them as impressive and emotional. He praised Prince Mohammed bin Salman as one of the revolutionaries of the Middle East, who are forging a new history in the region.
Herzog speaks Arabic fluently, cares about what is going on in the Arab world, and plans to seek the post of Foreign Minister, should Avi Gabai, his successor at the helm of the Labor Party, win the next elections – which today is not supported by a single public opinion poll. But, electoral realities aside, Herzog described his dream of forging a new reconciliation coalition with countries that have a common interest with Israel in confronting Iran: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
He does not see Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority as necessarily preventing such a coalition, and restates his commitment to a two-state solution. He also insists that Jewish settlements don’t have to be evacuated to make peace possible, and instead he expects that a series of confidence-building steps with the PA would lead to cooperation with Ramallah (which, presumably, would later move its offices to eastern Jerusalem) as part of a major alliance in the region with Israel.
Herzog described how close he had been to joining the Netanyahu coalition government in 2016: “I admit that I was prepared to sacrifice my political future,” he says. “This is what happened. I faced my political camp (which I had been close to leading to winning against Netanyahu), because I do not want to shed more blood, because there was a golden opportunity and a hope for the two peoples, this is what I believe so far.”
“But after we reached a near-agreement with Netanyahu and had met day after day at his home in Jerusalem in May 2016, there was strong opposition from our camps. I do not want to mention the name of the minister close to Netanyahu who blocked the agreement. I know that the representatives of the settlers in the Likud party brought Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) into the government.
“At one meeting, Netanyahu brought that minister in, and after he was briefed on the terms of the agreement, the regional track and the solution with the Palestinians, which included a settlement freeze and other measures, the minister told [Netanyahu] that the settlers and their representatives in the ruling party in the government ‘will not let you do this, and they will drop out of your government.’ Then, Netanyahu began to backtrack on the points we agreed on. In practice, the coalition agreement was aborted and the regional track was killed.”