Opposition leader and head of the Zionist Camp Isaac Herzog outlined his security and diplomatic agenda on Saturday, promising he will promote strong ties with the United States and resume negotiations with the Palestinians if elected prime minister. While Israel is no enemy of the Iranian people, he told a security conference in Munich, Iran’s extremist regime must never be allowed to get nuclear weapons.
In a late Saturday interview with Israel’s Channel 10, he also accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “trampling” Israel-US ties by going ahead with his controversial March 3 speech to Congress, urged Netanyahu to cancel, and said the prime minister’s “cynical political game” was also tearing US Jewry apart, noting that ADL chief Abe Foxman has urged Netanyahu to call off the trip.
Herzog, who also heads the Labor Party, outlined part of his platform at the security conference in Munich attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, and had informal meetings with both. Tellingly, Kerry, Biden and President Barack Obama have all made clear they will not meet with Netanyahu when he flies to the US to address Congress next month, with Obama and Kerry citing the visit’s proximity to the March 17 elections, and Biden’s office saying he’ll be abroad.
“The definition of true national security, as I see it, requires much more than just guns, essential as they are,” Herzog said in his Munich address. “It also requires a strong economy, a strong society and strong alliances, like the strategic alliance Israel has with the United States of America.
“The art of diplomacy is not in speeches but in intense, intimate coordination with allies who share the same basic interests,” he said.
Herzog’s choice to highlight Jerusalem’s ties with the United States comes amid the row surrounding the speech Netanyahu is set to give to Congress next month about Iran. In his address, the PM is set to warn against a deal with Tehran that would enable it to become a nuclear threshold state. The Obama administration has been strongly pushing for an international deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 10 after his Munich talks, Herzog underlined the scope of the crisis in ties between Netanyahu and the Obama Administration. Netanyahu “won’t get to meet with a single American official on this visit — not from the National Security Agency, not from the White House, not from the State Department,” Herzog said. “It’s a complete boycott [of Netanyahu by the Obama administration]. Even if that’s not stated, that’s the story.”
Herzog urged the prime minister several times on Saturday to cancel the speech, deeming it hurtful to US-Israel relations. “This speech that was born in sin, as an electioneering ‘production,’ endangers the security of Israel’s citizens and the special relationship between Israel and the US,” Herzog charged in separate comments earlier in the day. “With all due respect to [Netanyahu’s] campaign, this is the moment when you must act as an Israeli patriot and not throw Israeli security under the bus.”
Like his opponent, the Zionist Camp head avowed that he would not accept a nuclear Iran and that Israel would do what it needed to protect the Jewish people, asserting, however, that the Jewish state is stronger with allies. “We Israelis know that a nation is stronger when it stands with allies. It is more important than ever that all of us here stand strong together,” he declared in his speech.
In addition to his unofficial meeting with Kerry and Biden, Herzog also met with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond.
The center-left candidate stressed the importance of finding an international solution to preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, provided that such a solution would “ensure that Iran will never develop a nuclear bomb.”
“We must focus on the concrete parameters of the agreement while keeping all options on the table and deterring Iran from any encroachment.”
“If Iran wants to live in peace, the Iranian people will not find Israel their enemy,” Herzog stated. “But we will not allow an extremist regime to develop nuclear weapons and we spare no effort to stop it.”
The opposition head stated that, if elected prime minister, he would seek out the United Nations Security Council to help rebuild the Gaza Strip in return for the coastal enclave’s disarmament.
“The powder keg of Gaza can explode at any minute… Gaza desperately requires economic reconstruction,” he stated.
“[We need] to work with our regional allies, and with our strategic partners, towards a binding resolution calling for the demilitarization of the Gaza strip, in exchange for very significant reconstruction, a kind of a mini-Marshall Plan if you will. This with the aim of bringing quiet and tranquility to our border with Gaza for years to come,” Herzog contended.
In an additional reference to Israel’s neighbors, Herzog said he would resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians “in coordination with a strong regional platform.” He said he maintained his belief in a two-state solution, but slammed the PA’s attempt to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We will never allow our nation, and our IDF troops, to be drawn into a legal and political farce at the ICC,” he stated, labeling the bid “counter-productive.”
“This is not the way forward,” Herzog asserted.
Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.