(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog vigorously denied reports Sunday suggesting that his new plan to separate from the Palestinians without creating a Palestinian state is intended to pave the way to enter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The plan is seen as shifting Herzog’s Labor Party to the Center, because it says a two-state solution is not currently realistic and calls for completing the security fence around settlement blocs.
A report on Israel Radio suggested that Herzog’s shift may have been aimed at bringing his party into the government and preempting a challenge to his leadership from former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who was cleared of potential criminal charges last week.
Herzog told Israel Radio, “I am not shifting Right, I am accepting reality.”
He continued, “I knew what I said could result in losing support from choirs on the extreme Left. I desire a two state solution. I want to negotiate with the Palestinians to bring it about. But in the current reality with Netanyahu and Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] in charge, it can’t be achieved.”
Herzog said there were no plans or preparations for joining the government and that had he been elected last year, the current wave of violence would not have erupted. His statement about the “extreme Left” was interpreted as a jab against his Labor Party rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich, who criticized him earlier Sunday.
Yacimovich said she heard about Herzog’s plan through the media and said it would have to be discussed within the faction, especially if it contradicts the position of a majority of its members.
“Opposite a coalition that is pulled by its hair by [Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel] Smotrich and [Likud MK Oren] Hazan, the Labor Party must present a diplomatic alternative of discussion and not give up on it in the face of the common argument on the Right that there is no one to talk to,” Yacimovich said.
Yacimovich said that now, precisely during the wave of terrorism that Israel is facing, a brave diplomatic initiative must be put forward to renew negotiations with Abbas.
“Abu Mazen is indeed not a lover of Zion, but it may be that he represents the last opportunity to speak to a secular and pragmatic Palestinian leader and this opportunity must not be missed, which would be playing into the hands of Netanyahu,” she said.
Herzog responded to Yacimovich on Facebook: “Do you really think that if you told the Palestinians, ‘Hi, it’s Shelly, let’s make peace,’ they’d put down their knives and shake your hand?” To Israel Radio, Herzog said he would be happy if Ashkenazi joined the Labor party. But, he said the former general probably required time to recover from his recent legal battles. Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel said it was too soon to woo Ashkenazi because his views on key issues were unknown.
“We don’t need a security figure, but rather for all of us in the current faction to become more security oriented,” Cabel said.
A Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication Ma’ariv last week found that with Ashekenazi at the helm, Yesh Atid could win 19 seats instead of its current 11 and the Zionist Union would win 17 instead of its current 24. If Ashkenazi ran with Kulanu, along with former minister Gideon Sa’ar, the party would rise from 10 seats to 11.