Labor legislator in Israel favors using ‘67 borders

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A potential leader of a key Israeli opposition party says he welcomes President Obama’s call for the Jewish state to use its pre-1967 borders in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Isaac Herzog, a former Israeli minister running for chairman of the center-left Labor Party, said Thursday that the president’s speech last month “hit straight at the crux of the difference” between parties of the right and those of the left and center.

“[Mr. Obama] laid out a vision, which in my mind was very attractive, I must say,” Mr. Herzog said, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I was in a [television] studio listening to the speech, and I agreed with almost everything I heard.”

The speech, which dealt primarily with developments in the Arab world, called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed [land] swaps,” a reference to the armistice lines that existed before the Jewish state conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day war.

Mr. Herzog noted that the principle of a border based on the pre-1967 lines was one of the “Clinton parameters,” laid out by the former U.S. president in late 2000 and accepted by the Israeli government at the time.

“In my view, in my party’s view, President Obama’s speech is another evolutionary step from those parameters in 2000,” he said.

Mr. Herzog accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of misrepresenting the president by objecting to the “1967 lines” part of Mr. Obama’s speech without acknowledging its language on land swaps.

In past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, both parties have agreed that Israel would annex large settlement blocs in return for Israeli territory, though they have differed over the extent of such a swap.

The veteran Labor Party lawmaker conceded that the tumult of recent years - and recent months - has made Israelis risk-averse.

“The basic feeling of Israelis is, ‘We don’t trust our partners, we don’t trust the Arabs, and therefore, so long as we don’t see somebody who’s willing to accept us in the region, we won’t budge further,’ ” he said.

But he added that “if there’s a referendum on a deal and it’s a serious deal, 80 percent of the public will vote for it.”

Mr. Herzog, son of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, is one of the leading contenders to win Labor’s chairmanship elections, scheduled for September.

The party, which built the Jewish state and dominated its politics for decades, has seen its fortunes wane in recent years, winning an all-time low of 13 Knesset seats in the 2009 elections.

Mr. Herzog supported Labor joining Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing government, but after key lawmakers split from the party in January, he resigned with other Labor ministers to protest the government’s lack of progress in the peace process.

Mr. Herzog predicted he would face off against former party leader Amir Peretz in a runoff and said he thinks he has a “good chance” of winning.

The two men were involved recently in a domestic WikiLeaks controversy when the newspaper Ha’aretz published a 2006 cable alleging that Mr. Herzog had called Mr. Peretz “inexperienced, aggressive and Moroccan.” Mr. Herzog says the remarks were distorted and taken out of context.

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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