Party leaders across the political spectrum took aim at the security and foreign policy credentials of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an Institute for National Security Studies conference on Monday.
Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On all took Netanyahu to task for making Israel less safe, harming relations with the United States, and enabling a feeble economy that does little to safeguard its poor.
“This is an election that will restore hope and independence and will rectify the damage done to our security in the past six years under Netanyahu,” Herzog said.
“Under his watch, Jerusalem was divided up by large concrete blocks. Under his watch, we were attacked in the North. Under his watch, thousands of terrorists made advances. All the while he was afraid of the power of the settlers from Bayit Yehudi,” he added.
Decrying Netanyahu a “failure on security” and powerless to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions, he said, “after all the speeches and headlines, Iran is on its way to obtaining a nuclear weapon. No speech to Congress will hide that fact.”
“Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies, he destroyed the relations with the Americans. A leader that fights with friends and not enemies is an enemy that fails on security,” Herzog said.
Lapid also assailed Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress on March 3 and accused him of sabotaging the Congressional bill to impose additional sanctions on the Iranian regime.
“Due to Netanyahu’s speech, directly because of it, Congress won’t impose additional sanctions on Iran and the Iranians will take another big step toward becoming a nuclear-threshold state,” he said.
Lapid was referring to the bipartisan Kirk-Menendez bill that proposes triggering new sanctions on Iran in the event talks failed, but the bill was delayed to March 24 because of Democrats who called for additional time for talks before Congress went to vote.
Calling Netanyahu “an empty suit,” the former finance minister said he created a “Greek tragedy” for himself.
“It’s a Greek tragedy. Everything that he warned against for years will happen in the end because of him: a Middle East nuclear arms race, a tense balance of threats, an American cold shoulder against an existential threat to Israel,” he warned.
The leaders also took the opportunity to discuss what they would do if entrusted with the premiership.
“In my first days in office, I’m ready to talk with our allies and say that Netanyahu tried to distance us. I will get relations with the United States back on track,” Herzog promised, saying that he will do everything in his power to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear actor.
“I will demand that in any agreement, Iran must recognize Israel as a state among nations. I can’t believe the prime minister hasn’t demanded this already,” he said.
Herzog’s vow to stop building and financing settlements beyond blocs in the West Bank was met with applause.
“Peace is waiting for us around the corner. We have an opportunity to make every effort to extend our hand to the other side. I don’t know what kind of Palestinian leadership awaits me at my first day in office. But I know we must step away from our one-sided paradigm,” he said.
Gal-On, however, was unimpressed by Herzog and Lapid’s platforms and said that what they propose is not a true alternative to Netanyahu’s policy.
“What is just as worrying are the parties who present themselves as an alternative to Netanyahu. They are asking to replace him, but they are acting like Likud type 2,” she said.
“Is there something the Zionist Union has said that doesn’t sound like it would come from Netanyahu? I heard Tzipi Livni say Jerusalem will not be divided, and Israel will be a Jewish state forever, and Omer Bar-Lev said Herzog will be the real leader who will take on Iran,” she asserted. “And this is our alternative?” Gal-On said that such a platform provided by the Zionist Union does not counteract the Likud, but rather presents an alliance between those party leaders.
Likud MK Gilad Erdan defended Netanyahu’s policies against the criticism. He pointed to Netanyahu’s leadership during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge as a testament to his security credentials.
“When we’re dealing with an entity that hides behind innocent civilians, and if you’re a country that takes human rights into account, then you’re in a more complicated situation. You have to uphold Geneva conventions and international accords and they don’t,” he explained.
“Which is why I find the criticism of Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid of our conduct during Operation Protective Edge repugnant. They’re addressing Gaza as if we actually had a chance of peace,” he said.
Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett was scheduled to attend the Tel Aviv conference, but bowed out because of the death of Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach, a fellow Bayit Yehudi MK.