All of Israel is thoroughly united in its support for Operation Protective Edge because it is seen as a just war being waged responsibly, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Thursday.
“The decisions that were taken so far were responsible and focused,” Herzog said during a conference call with reporters. “I hope they will bring an end to the fighting.”
Asked by a reporter whether he’s surprised by the “North Korea-like level of public support for the war” — according to polls, an overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis believe the military campaign is just — and whether this might endanger Israeli democracy, he laughed. “I really don’t think we’re North Korea in any possible sense,” said Herzog, who heads the center-left Labor party.
“Any issue in Israel is an issue for argument and debate. The social networks are extremely aggressive and our parliament is one of the most interesting and fascinating in this respect,” he said. There are eight different parties in the current opposition, “including the Muslim Brotherhood party, the only legal Muslim Brotherhood party in the region, if not in the world.”
Herzog was likely referring to Ra’am-Ta’al, an Arab-Israeli faction in the Knesset, although it has no formal affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“There is a national consensus in Israel as to the justification of this operation for a few reasons,” he said. First, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted with restraint, seeking to avoid conflagration. “We tried to contain [the conflict]. And Hamas, for its own strategic reasons, decided to flare it up.”
Second, Israel accepted and implemented several humanitarian ceasefire offers, which were all rejected or violated by Hamas, Herzog said. “So the question you ask yourself as an Israeli is: Suppose we say yes and immediately stop — what happens next, if they keep on shooting? This is the question I hear day in and day out. If they keep on shooting then I have to defend my people.”
The third reason for across-the-board support for Israel’s military campaign is the discovery of dozens of attack tunnels. It might sound absurd, Herzog said, but mentally, many Israelis living in the country’s south had resigned themselves to living with the constant rocket fire from Gaza. But now that they’ve learned that a “much larger threat” looms underneath their towns and cities, even many left-leaning residents of the south support the campaign to destroy the tunnels.
When people see Hamas terrorists emerging from tunnels and infiltrating kibbutzim and army bases located on territory that clearly is under Israeli sovereignty, “everybody understands that it’s a battle for our home.”
And yet, Israelis feel “deep sorrow for the terrible loss of human lives we have seen in Gaza and tragedies that have engulfed the area,” said Herzog.
Despite the near-universal report for Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli peace camp still exists — “it’s absolutely there, waiting for the day after,” he said.
“Had I been prime minister I would have given a big blow to Hamas, and I would drive to Ramallah, knock on the door of the Muqata, enter the office of Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and start negotiating peace with him. This is my line, this is what I think should be done.”
While the current situation does not look promising for talks about a two-state solution, Herzog said he believes in peace and believes that Israel has a partner in Abbas. “But when you get ready for peace you also should be ready for war in order to protect your people, and in this region especially.”