After campaigning on a platform of “Anybody-but-Netanyahu,” Israeli opposition leader Issac Herzog is in discussion to join forces with the one man he said he would never work alongside in a unity government. While Herzog’s constituents are mad about it, analysts say Netanyahu is hoping to build favor with the Obama administration with a broader tent. Still it is the Joint List’s Ayman Odeh that might stand the most to gain and Herzog’s defection would leave him to lead the opposition, the first time a Palestinian citizen of Israel would ever be in that position.
Herzog’s move is not popular with his base. Israel’s Channel 2 found 60 per cent of Herzog’s Zionist Union members are against him teaming up with Netanyahu. His faction is a combination list of center-left parties at odds with the Prime Minister on issues ranging from the economy, to Iran to the Palestinian. Many in Herzog’s group believe Netanyahu is losing a democratic and majority Jewish Israel, to a one-state reality. They are against settlement expansion, but hope to see a final peace deal that includes land swaps where Israel would keep large blocs across the West Bank, proposal Palestinians have consistently rejected.
Nonetheless, the Zionist camp is the inheritors of Israel’s once influential peace movement even as Herzog has veered far from that path, such as when last month he declared his party members were no “Arab lovers. “A false impression exists that we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the State of Israel,” he said in the speech, reported the Jerusalem Post.
Ayman Odeh, leader of Israel’s third largest political party the Joint List, had sharp words for the Zionist Union for considering to join Netanyahu, “We at the Joint List are proud to be the de facto leaders of the opposition, offering a vision of a future of democracy, peace, and equality for all citizens,” Odeh said in a statement today. “If the Zionist Camp makes the mistake of joining Netanyahu, I will be proud to lead the formal opposition and bring forward a real alternative to Netanyahu’s dangerous administration.”
And in referring to Herzog, Odeh said, “Instead of offering a real alternative he has chosen to mimic the racist bluster of Netanyahu and his ministers. Herzog has shown that he is nothing but a pale shadow of Netanyahu, and one who is willing to sell his principles for a seat at the Government table.”
Odeh though would stand to gain by the merger. In a domino effect if Herzog joins Netanyahu and abdicates his position as leader of the opposition, Odeh would then step in becoming the highest-ranking Palestinian citizen of Israel in the government, throughout Israel’s entire history. This scenario would be a coup for Odeh. In Israel the position of opposition leader is more than a title. It comes with a platform, and Odeh would be entitled to meet with every foreign head of state who travels to Israel on official visits, and he would brief Israel’s parliament.
So, why is Netanyahu interested in doing this?
Former negotiator under Kerry, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies speculated that a unified left-right government could help Israel gain American support in halting Palestinian aspirations to seek intervention from the United Nations. The Palestinian leadership has announced a summer conference hosted by France to make inroads into drafting legislation for the Security Council to order an end to the occupation by a deadline.
Here’s Makovsky outlining Netanyahu’s challenges, which “could come toward year’s end, when the Obama administration is expected to decide whether to pursue a UN Security Council resolution that would outline the toughest issues blocking progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here, too, Netanyahu fears an imposed solution and appears to believe Labor’s inclusion could allow Israel to modify its policies in ways that preempt such a move. A broader government would also give Netanyahu the flexibility to deal with a new U.S. administration.”
In other words, if Netanyahu forms a government with Herzog, he could benefit from increased U.S. backing over the Palestinian forays at the United Nations.
Based on the statement released by the Joint List it would seem Odeh agrees this is Netanyahu’s hope, and that Herzog’s help would only help strengthen the Israeli status quo: “Any expansion of the right-wing government will only help Prime Minster Netanyahu to fortify the politics of the Right, which is based upon incitement, hatred and racism. Netanyahu will continue to lead his policy of deepening the occupation and growing the settlements, with the Zionist Camp functioning purely as a fig leaf, especially in light of the growing international pressure on Israel.”