Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Sunday condemned Zionist Camp party leader Isaac Herzog for “recklessly crossing red lines” and undermining Israel’s international standing at a conference in Germany over the weekend.
Herzog on Saturday urged Netanyahu to cancel his March 3 Congress address on Iran, and held informal meetings with US Vice President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
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.
A senior US official denied Biden held more than an informal word with Herzog, noting that he also spoke with Minister Yuval Steinitz, from the Likud party.
“Two members of the Israeli government, Yuval Steinitz and Isaac Herzog, separately greeted Vice President Biden in passing at the Munich Security Conference. No meetings, formal or informal, were held with either official,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel.
In his remarks Saturday, Herzog, the current opposition leader and prime ministerial hopeful, also criticized Netanyahu for compromising Israel’s diplomatic ties with the US.
In response, the Likud party said in a statement that Herzog “ran to Munich out of political and personal considerations in order to discredit the prime minister of Israel, while harming its national and security interests.”
“Herzog’s behavior in Munich was a reckless crossing of red lines,” the party statement said. “While the prime minister seeks to prevent a dangerous deal between the Western powers and Iran, the opposition leader chose to weaken Israel’s standing in the political sphere.”
Shelly Yachimovich, the Zionist Camp’s No. 3, defended Herzog’s informal meeting with Biden.
“His meeting this evening with Vice President Biden in Munich, after Biden announced that he would not attend Bibi [Netanyahu’s] speech to Congress, is proof that the only bridge to harmonious and proper communication in the international arena is Herzog as prime minister,” she wrote in a statement on Saturday night.
Channel 2 noted that while the Likud criticized Herzog for meeting with Biden, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz was seen on camera at the Munich conference waiting in line to shake Biden’s hand.
Steinitz downplayed Herzog’s meeting with Biden on Sunday, stressing that it was a brief impromptu conversation and was not pre-planned, Israel Radio reported.
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 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.
“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.
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.”
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.
Justin Jalil contributed to this report.