Update: Following a request by Liron Zach, spokesman for Opposition Leader Yitzchak Herzog, JewishPress.com was supplied with a written 12-page transcript of the complete interview with the Saudi website Elaph. We are updating and making the following clarifications to this article.
Elaph: “Do you see Jerusalem as the Likud sees it? Unified and eternal capital of Israel?”
Herzog: “Jerusalem is united and will not be divided, but we can be creative on this issue. Jerusalem is united and will not be divided, but we can be creative on this issue. For me, Palestinian presence and sovereignty in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem must be done without division [of the city].
There are many more creative solutions and I do not think we should start with the issue of Jerusalem. The beginning of the comprehensive solution, as I proposed for 10 years, along with building a state [of Palestine] and reaching a solution on the issue of Jerusalem.
I think the Saudis have a big role to play in this matter. We come to talk about Jerusalem and the holy places like Al-Aqsa, and I think that the Saudis have a responsibility and great role in the holy places of Islam, just as they took responsibility for Mecca and Medina. I think that the Saudis should be given a central role in this matter.”
From the transcript, Herzog clearly believes a future Palestinian State should have both physical presence and sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem, somehow implementing that sovereignty without dividing the city.
Regarding the Saudi’s role over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Zach informs us that Herzog did not mean that the Saudis would be given “special status” over the holy places in Israel, but rather a central role in finding a solution for the holy places.
From a close reading of the original transcript, with the juxtapositioning of Al Aqsa next to Mecca and Medina, it is clear to us why Elaph would have understood Herzog the way they did, and not the way Zach says Herzog meant.
Zach also did not have an answer for us at this time as to what the Jordanians thought of the idea of the Saudis playing any (limited or central) role in solution for the Islamic holy sites in Israel — one can presume the Jordanian regime would certainly not be happy to be driven out of their holy places for the second time in one hundred years by the House of Saud (the Hashemites used to own Mecca and Medina, which the Saudis conquered in the 1920s).
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 central role in the matter of 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 (and eventually to sovereignty over 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.”