Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) lashed out at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday, saying Bennett's assertion that economic boycotts are preferable to the creation of a Palestinian state is detached from reality.
At a meeting with members of the Foreign Press Association at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Herzog disputed Bennett’s contention that Israel can overcome boycotts as it did with boycotts in the past. In the past, the boycotts were by the Arab League; today’s boycotts are different, said Herzog.
Herzog, who has himself served in four ministerial positions, characterized what Bennett had said as “an outrageous statement by a minister who does not understand his place.”
Herzog perceived Bennett’s statement as part of a campaign, and said that he was undermining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because he wants to be the leader of the (political) Right.
Insofar as the organizations and institutions that are boycotting Israel are concerned, Herzog said that there is a lack of economic understanding about what happens in the settlements.
“The Palestinians will be hurt more by boycotts than Israel,” he said, because thousands of Palestinians will lose their livelihood if there is a drastic decline in exports.
Insisting that the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority present “a golden opportunity for peace,” Herzog said that if the peace process advances, Labor will support it and provide a safety net but will not join the coalition. “We are not having anything to do with the restructuring of the Israeli coalition because I see nothing tangible. All I’m doing is saying: Go for it, Mr. Prime Minister.”
Herzog considered it unwise for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to take unilateral action. To do so in Herzog’s opinion would not get him anywhere.
The Israeli and the Palestinian leaders “must be bold and look each other in the eye and understand that they cannot blink," but at the same time was doubtful as to whether Netanyahu has “the political ability to take the steps towards peace."
If the outcome of the peace process is successful, Herzog has no objection to one of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine so long as the city is not divided and continues to function as a united municipality.
If there is no progress in the peace process, he declared, “We will win the next election.” Labor has not won an election since 1999.
Herzog observed that there is fragmentation within Likud, adding that the comments last week by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon exemplify the problems that Netanyahu faces in his own party.
Asked about Netanyahu’s insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, Herzog said that it was a legitimate demand, particularly in light of the wording of the resolution taken by the United Nations in November 1947, which calls for independent Arab and Jewish states.
On the subject of Iran, Herzog said that the Iranian nuclear program is a danger to the world, the region and Israel, and charged Iran with spreading terror and hate.
“Its regime is the biggest threat to the existence of Israel,” he said.
Nonetheless he was willing to give a window to the six month period in which Iran will reduce its uranium enrichment and cut down on its stockpile. He had been given to understand that the actual agreement was more robust than had been reported, he noted.
Asked about the psychology of fear that Netanyahu has instilled into the nation, Herzog replied: “The psychology of fear is the main engine of Netanyahu’s agenda.”
However to be objective he continued, Israel has a lot to worry about and every possible scenario should be taken into account.
The possible scenarios include the future of the Jordan Valley where regardless of what may happen politically, Herzog saw a need for a continued Israeli military presence. It made no difference to him whether the Israeli forces will be there together with Palestinian or Jordanian forces or any other forces for that matter, so long as there is an Israeli presence on the Jordan River.