If Herzog joins the government, he shouldn’t agree to anything short of placing Netanyahu on the chopping block. Mr. Herzog, you have this opportunity to end the long national nightmare which is Netanyahu’s premiership—don’t sell yourself short.
Israeli Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, of the Zionist Union, yesterday declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new religious-right government “a national disaster government,” mocking the much speculation and dread about a national unity government. Despite Herzog’s tough words and vows to keep a “fighting opposition”, many a rumor has spread about a backchannel between Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu on the formation of a unity government between Likud and Zionist Union, including Haredim and Kahlon. Rumor has it that Netanyahu has offered Herzog the position of Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry, along with the removal of far right Habayit Hayehudi from the coalition and some socio-economic portfolio for the relentless Shelly Yachimovich. Yachimovich, who has noticed this possibility, has already started her campaign to primary Herzog, with the goal of reclaiming the chairmanship and ending Labor’s duel leadership with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah—who Netanyahu does not want back in government.
Although Herzog has denied these rumors stringently, there appears to be truth in them, which isn’t surprising considering how power starved the Labor Party has been in the past few years. Herzog, however, should understand that his hold on power is precautious, and he was not selected by so many Israelis because of himself, but out of a true hatred for Netanyahu and a desire among his electorate to throw him out. Herzog has accomplished something wonderful; he has helped reunite the center-left into a joint front and restored the Labor Party to over 20 seats for the first time since 2003. It would be shame for him to throw it all away by cuddling up to Netanyahu and saving him (and his fourth government) from himself. Since Herzog was elected as an alternative, he should stay in the opposition and fight like he has claimed he is committed to fighting, and work to undermine this narrow, extortionist, dangerous government which Netanyahu struggled to mold.
Some argue that because of the nature of this new government, it would be best for Herzog to join in any capacity to moderate out the rightist agenda, noting correctly that in such a situation, Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi will be trashed, and Justice Minister Shaked will barely see the light of day. While these people mean well, unfortunately this advice imperils the gains Herzog made and hands over a safety blanket for Netanyahu and his static agenda. Netanyahu has managed to do what every leader of the Israeli center-left has tried to do to him since 2009: undermine his image as a strong leader and a ruthless negotiator able to stand up for Israel to the international community. By liquidating all the ministries his Likud Party wanted—finance, justice, foreign affairs for starters—and trashing virtually every achievement of his last government for the sake of the Haredim, Netanyahu has shown himself to be tired, worn out, and on the edge of his own demise. Only a fool would extend their hand to him now, as his new government of 61 MKs won’t manage a year without some outside help. And, unless Avigdor Lieberman suddenly has a change of heart, Herzog is his only savior.
Now, there may be some conditions under which which joining the coalition could be acceptable to his constituency—such as a national disaster. But barring such, if Herzog is wise, he must take a page out of Naftali Bennett’s playbook and work the extortionist nature of the system. A government supported by the Zionist Union must be one that accurately represents the values of their constituency: a government that allows serious negotiations with President Abbas over a Palestinian state, a government which halts construction in the Occupied Territories outside of the major blocks, and a government where Netanyahu concedes the end of his era of his premiership. A unity government between Likud and the Zionist Union must be one of equal partners, one where the Zionist Union holds it own and isn’t used as a pawn and a fig leaf by Netanyahu. If Herzog joins the government, he shouldn’t agree to anything short of placing Netanyahu on the chopping block. A unity government must be nothing but a death wish for Netanyahu. Mr. Herzog, you have this power and this opportunity to end the long national nightmare which is Netanyahu’s premiership—don’t sell yourself short.
And if he doesn’t join the government, what’s the worst that can happen? This government, will be ineffective, stagnate, and likely collapse within the next year unless something seriously strange takes place—which knowing Israeli politics isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Unless Lieberman comes crawling back to Netanyahu, which appears to be highly unlikely after the fallout from his announcement earlier this week—none of the other options hurt the Israeli left. If Netanyahu manages to steal and splinter Yesh Atid as has been suggested—all it does is weaken the party, and leave a mainly left leaning constituency up for the Zionist Union’s consumption. The longer this government remains in a twilight zone of productivity, and proves to be national nightmare, the better Herzog looks in the next election. Of course there are various other problems the left in Israel has including a complete marginalization from the Mizrahi working class, an unclear plan for Israel’s national security, and a right wing hegemonic political culture—however, strong leadership would be a nice place to start.
So please, Mr. Herzog, for the love of god, don’t pull an Ehud Barak and fracture the center-left by selling yourself as a figleaf for Netanyahu.