Herzog dares five Labor rivals to face-off in debate

Labor leadership candidate defends position to join PM's gov't, reveals US officials invited him to explain his diplomatic plan in Washington.

Herzog 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Herzog 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor leadership candidate Isaac Herzog challenged his five opponents for the party chairmanship on Sunday to face off against him in a series of debates ahead of the September 12 primary vote.
Speaking at a diplomatic forum of Labor’s executive committee that Herzog initiated, he defended his decision to join Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and revealed that top officials in Washington had invited him to explain his diplomatic plan in the American capital.
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“The challenges Israel is facing on the diplomatic, security and socioeconomic fronts have made holding debates even more important,” Herzog said. “I expect all the candidates to accept my initiative.”
Herzog devoted his speech to an attack on Netanyahu, who he said was leading the country to international isolation and a decision to create a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly in September.
He said Israel should support the creation of a Palestinian state at the UN, on condition that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to negotiate with Netanyahu.
“We have a prime minister who knows how to make speeches, but he doesn’t know how to talk people,” Herzog said. “Even when he sat next to Obama [in Washington last week], he made a speech rather than talking to him.”
Herzog said he also supported starting to compensate settlers from communities in Judea and Samaria that Israel will not retain in any peace agreement.
Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who is focusing her campaign on socioeconomic issues, warned that the lack of diplomatic progress would cause economic damage that would harm the poor. She attacked her rivals to the Left by saying that Labor should not join with fringe groups and Herzog by attacking him for joining the government.
“Political strategists say I should attack Bibi [Netanyahu], but what do we want from Bibi?” she said.
“Who thought the Likud would make concessions when we are in the government.”
Our problem is not a lack of diplomatic plans, it’s that it’s harder to remove a tooth from an elephant than to take Labor out of the government,” she said.
MK Amir Peretz, who is also running, said “the Israeli government needed to tell the truth to the people that we have to make an agreement so we won’t become an apartheid state.” He accused Netanyahu of scare tactics.
Another candidate, former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna, said it was important for Labor to provide an alternative by speaking to the public and restoring its faith in the party and its “sane policies.” The deal between Hamas and Fatah “presented an opportunity” that Hamas would become easier to deal with as it underwent “institutionalization.”
Labor adopted a diplomatic plan written by MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer calling for reaching an agreement with the Palestinians based on the Clinton Plan. The party calls for annexing the settlement blocs, and giving up the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Palestinian refugees would only return to a Palestinian state.
The party supports freezing settlements beyond the West Bank security barrier and opposes negotiating with Hamas.