Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog promised the Saban Forum in Washington on Friday night that he would lead a centrist bloc to victory in Israel's next elections and that he would replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister.
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Herzog said that he would form a coalition comprised of all the parties “from Lieberman to Meretz” and that he would try to secure “support from the outside” from the Arab parties as well.
Herzog was speaking at the opening plenum of the annual Saban Forum at the Willard Hotel near the White House in downtown Washington. He replaced Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as one of two main speakers at the event, alongside Hillary Clinton, following the passing this week of Lieberman’s mother, Esther.
Herzog was responding to sometimes tough questions posed by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in a 45-minute appearance that seemed to impress many of his listeners, both American and Israeli. He expressed hope that he would soon be able to announce an agreement with outgoing Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was also in the audience, about her merger with a Labor-led list.
Herzog rebuffed Goldberg’s assertion that he is considered to be a “non-charismatic figure.” He said that the Israeli public trusts him and that he intends to build on that trust and expand it in order to achieve victory in the expected March 17 ballot.
Speaking before an audience that included senior officials, past and present, from both countries, as well as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several other members of Congress, Herzog pinned the blame for the lack of trust between the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders. He also said that he “trusts the Obama administration to get a good deal with Iran.”
Iran also figured prominently in Clinton’s interview, which was conducted by her friend and supporter, Hollywood billionaire Haim Saban. She said she supports an Iran deal that “verifiably closes all avenues to a nuclear weapon, including covert” and asserted that the interim deal with Tehran had “stopped their nuclear program. Clinton said that one of her main regrets from her tenure as secretary of state was the administration’s lack of support for Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution, but she added that the policy was the one recommended by most analysts and intelligence experts that the administration had consulted with.
Clinton refused to get drawn in to any discussion about her presidential intentions and gave her usual careful replies to Saban’s questions on U.S.-Israeli tensions. She defended the administration’s ”extraordinary” record in its dealings with Israel, however, saying “No one can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security.”
The Saban Forum discussions between Israeli officials, politicians and journalists and their American counterparts will continue over the weekend. Livni is also expected to make a public appearance, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israel’s Economics Minister and the leader of Habayit Hayehudi party, Naftali Bennett.