Herzog: Would’ve Joined Gov’t If Peace Deal Came Through; PM Backed Out

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Manhattan, Sept. 23, 2016. (Reuters/Darren Ornitz)

At the secret meeting a year ago in Aqaba between Israel, Jordan and Egypt, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly agreed to freeze construction outside settlement blocs in Yehudah and Shomron if the United States and Arab countries permitted Israel to build inside the blocs. The report, in Haaretz, furnished further details on the discussions at that meeting in Aqaba in February 2016. The meeting was chaired by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

In exchange for Israeli building in the settlement blocs, PM Netanyahu offered a plan that would allow for massive Palestinian building in the rest of Area C, essentially subsuming those areas into a future Palestinian state. A major infrastructure project would be developed in Gaza, and Israel would increase its security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, the report said.

Israel would also declare its commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the 2002 Arab peace plan, stressing its willingness to discuss aspects of the agreement with Arab states in the region. The agreement would also include an aspect of regional cooperation, with Israel inviting officials from Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states to a summit at which Netanyahu would represent Israel. In addition, the U.S. would promise to lean on the PA to rein in its excessive anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The meeting was first reported in Haaretz’s Sunday edition, and Netanyahu confirmed to ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting that the meeting did indeed take place. Netanyahu added that the summit had been his idea, and not Kerry’s, as had been otherwise reported. According to Haaretz’s sources, it was Kerry who organized the event, although Netanyahu had “a strong role in making it happen,” in order to ensure that Israel’s interests were not shortchanged.

Apparently the deal was set to go forward, opposition head Yitzchak Herzog told Channel Ten in an interview. Herzog said that he had conducted two days of marathon talks with Netanyahu in March 2016, several weeks after the summit, and the two had agreed on the basis of a coalition agreement within the framework of the deal Netanyahu had struck. Zionist Camp would join the government, with Herzog as Foreign Minister, and the party would ensure that Netanyahu’s government would survive the almost sure departure of Jewish Home. Details of the deal would be revealed when the announcement on Herzog’s joining the coalition was announced.

“At that point, Netanyahu sent in Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who was supposed to close the details of the coalition deal, and he found out about the Aqaba summit,” said Herzog. “Levin then started working against the deal, telling Netanyahu that it was not just Jewish Home that would oppose it, but Likud members as well who were opposed to the idea of building only in settlement blocs. He persuaded Netanyahu to give on the deal, and Netanyahu told me that if he went through with this it would rip the Likud apart. We could have changed the Middle East, but Netanyahu got scared off.”