Israeli Opposition Leader: Trump Visit Will Put Netanyahu's Peace Intentions to the Test

Isaac Herzog says Zionist Union has Netanyahu's back when it comes to peace talks with the Palestinians, but the same can't be said about the prime minister's own party

Isaac Herzog addresses the Knesset, May 8, 2017.
Isaac Herzog addresses the Knesset, May 8, 2017. Olivier Fitoussi

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said on Saturday that after U.S. President Donald Trump visits Israel later this month it will become clear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “intends to evade the biggest Zionist challenge of the 21st century – [ensuring] the future of the State of Israel as a state of the Jewish people and separation from the Palestinians.”

Speaking at a community forum in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion, the Zionist Union leader added: “After the visit, we will know not if we have a partner [on the Palestinian side] but we will know whether we have a prime minister who understands the need for an agreement.”

Herzog said that Netanyahu has the Zionist Union's support in the peace talks, but noted that it is Knesset members from the prime minister’s own Likud party who may make things more difficult for him.

“The fact that he would have support from us is clear,” Herzog said, but the same should be asked of key people in Likud, mentioning specifically coalition chairman David Bitan, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. Referring to the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who left Likud and established his own Kadima party, Herzog said: “What has brought down Likud all along the way and what caused Arik Sharon to leave Likud was Likud [itself]. Bibi [Netanyahu] needs to decide if he is working for the people of Israel or for Bitan and Regev.”

Herzog expressed confidence that he himself would win July’s primary election as leader of the Labor Party, the larger of the two parties that make up the Zionist Union. After that, he said, he would work to create “a large political bloc” of parties and individuals “capable of putting ego aside and moving ahead together with all of its strength to replace the government.” Herzog said he is the only one of the candidates for the Labor Party leadership who is capable of forming such a bloc.

Meanwhile, speaking at a public forum at Gan Raveh, south of Tel Aviv, Jacob Perry of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said: “Netanyahu is continuing to ‘manage’ the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is not taking any significant steps to solve it.” The prime minister, he said, “shows reverence for the status quo rather than taking the initiative and leading.” Perry expressed the hope that Trump will be successful in moving the peace process forward.

David Bitan of Likud, speaking at a public forum in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono, made reference to plans to have Trump speak at Masada, the ancient Herodian fortress where, according to the historical account, Jewish defenders chose to commit suicide rather than be taken captive by the Romans. “The fact that Trump is asking to speak at Masada shows that he respects the history of our people more than a not inconsiderable number of people on the left in Israel,” Bitan said.