In Surprising Deal With Livni, Labor's Herzog Went Too Far

Her political future looked bleak, until Isaac Herzog made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Herzog (L) and Livni (R) at a joint press conference, December 10, 2014.
Herzog (L) and Livni (R) at a joint press conference, December 10, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Tzipi Livni has left behind several political parties over the past decade and an accumulated total of lots of Knesset seats. But there’s one thing she apparently hasn’t lost, and that’s the desire – some say obsession – to be prime minister.

And like the famous phoenix that was totally burned and then rose from the ashes, Livni, from the bottom of the political food chain, a moment before the electoral threshold was going to bury her permanently, succeeded in extorting from Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog a commitment to rotate the coveted position on behalf of their joint list.

As any negotiator knows, sometimes you can win too big. The feeling in the Labor Party on Wedenesday was that Livni’s incredible victory in her negotiations with Herzog, which well overshadows Avigdor Lieberman’s success in merging Yisrael Beiteinu with Likud before the last election, is one of those over-the-top successes that will ultimately prove hollow. This agreement is so incomprehensible that it raises suspicions that Livni must have slipped something into Herzog’s drink when they flew to the United States and back last weekend, which is when the deal was made. Otherwise it isn’t clear what invisible force motivated him to accept her demands.

It wasn’t as if she had any alternatives. Yair Lapid would never have agreed to such a thing, since in the movie playing in his head he is capable of being prime minister all by himself. Herzog said a few days ago that to ascend to power “one has to give up his ego,” and that was very nice and noble of him. But why yield one’s honor and backbone and go beyond the bounds of reasonable?

And what will he be able to offer his potential partners on the center-right, like Lieberman or Moshe Kahlon, without whom he will have no coalition? As far as is known, both may well not recommend to the president that Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government. If the center-left has any chance of gaining power, it will only be with the cooperation of those two gentlemen. Will they accept Livni, the leader of a party with only three candidates on the joint list, as their prime minister?

Herzog, of course, sees it differently. From his perspective, he has made the ultimate sacrifice in order to send the center-left an elevated message of unity and cooperation. He said on Wednesday that he knew he’d be heavily criticized for agreeing to give Livni this gift – though for now, it’s merely his word – but he sees this as a demonstration of leadership and a willingness to make tough decisions for the greater good.

There’s no doubt that Herzog is the man with whom you’d want to be stuck on a desert island. The question is whether or not he’s gone a bit too far.

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