Israel’s Opposition Leader Holds Out Safety Net

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Isaac Herzog

Since he became head of Israel’s Labor Party in November, Isaac Herzog has positioned himself as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s safety net. If Netanyahu comes home with a peace deal with the Palestinians and his right wing bolts, Herzog will likely come to the prime minister’s aid.

And as the leader of Israel’s opposition, Herzog is in the wings to replace Netanyahu if the prime minister’s government falls.

Speaking from Israel on a conference call Thursday sponsored by Israel Policy Forum, Herzog, 53, said he met with Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent Mideast swing.

“He is finding ways of getting the parties closer,” he said of Kerry, adding in the vague terms that have surrounded exactly what the secretary is trying to achieve, “there will be an agreement or understanding in the next few weeks.”

Herzog said he wants to restore political balance that was lost by the decline of the Labor Party and the growth of the Israeli right.

“My goal is to lead a major center-left bloc, a bloc that will be an alternative to the right.” He said his bloc would include Tzipi Livni, whose party has six Knesset seats and is in Netanyahu’s coalition; the small Kadima faction; and the disaffected voters who flocked to Yair Lapid’s insurgent Yesh Atid Party in the last election.

Herzog’s predecessor, Shelly Yachimovich, had run on a platform stressing social justice, but she de-emphasized the peace process as an issue. Herzog said that not only are both part of his agenda, but they are intertwined.

“We are a social democratic party,” he said. “Social and economic issues cannot be separated from reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. Social justice should not end at the roadblocks” on the West Bank.

Several times during the conference call he rejected any speculation about a Plan B should Kerry’s diplomatic effort fail to produce an agreement that Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will sign.

“You have to be locked into a process with no alternatives,” he said. “Not only does Netanyahu need to understand. Abbas has to understand that he can’t play around on an alternative route if he doesn’t accept the deal that’s on the table. If there’s a vacuum, there’s violence.”

On opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, he said “there’s no light between me and the prime minister. We all identify the danger of Iran.”

He noted that “almost two months have gone by” since the West and Iran signed an interim agreement on the nuclear program. The agreement, set to last six months, has yet to be implemented. “I am bothered by the procrastination of the agreement,” he said.

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