TEL AVIV (JTA) – Speaking to a delegation of American Jewish leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog struck divergent tones on the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Netanyahu suggested that a resolution to the conflict may come only after improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Herzog reviewed his newly conceived plan for laying the groundwork of a future peace.
The two leaders spoke to a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is in Israel for a five-day mission. On the trip, the delegation is meeting with a range of Israeli leaders, including President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Before arriving in Israel, the group also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In a brief reference to the Palestinians within a larger speech on Israel’s international relations, Netanyahu said Israel shares interests with Arab states that could create stronger ties between Israel and its neighbours. Those ties, he said, could influence the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and regional stability.
“I think the better relations with the Arab world could help bring progress with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said in his speech Sunday. “I think that is very clear given the, what I regret to say is, the dysfunctionality that I often see in Palestinian politics, and I think that the encouragement of Arab states, leading Arab states, for a more realistic position on the part of the Palestinian Authority might contribute to a stabilizing situation and even advancing to a better future.”
Speaking to the delegation Tuesday, Herzog called for Israeli steps to improve prospects for a future two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. His plan, which he first released last month, calls for Israel to complete its security barrier around the West Bank – including through eastern Jerusalem – transfer civilian control in West Bank Palestinian areas to the Palestinian Authority, and initiate a regional conference to address shared concerns. Herzog also called for a freeze on West Bank settlement expansion outside the major Israeli settlement blocs.
“Under the current leadership of both sides, there is no way we can progress even one iota,” Herzog said, according to a Presidents Conference news release. “In a way, the borders have already been drawn.”