Herzog: Netanyahu's Government Spent Billions on Settlements Instead of Solving Housing Crisis

Zionist Union leader and Netanyahu's main rival lashes out at prime minister, calls on him not to speak to Congress in March.

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Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the Zionist Union party, gestures during an election campaign press conference in front of the foreign press in Jerusalem, on February 24, 2015.
Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the Zionist Union party, gestures during an election campaign press conference in front of the foreign press in Jerusalem, on February 24, 2015.Credit: AFP

Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel's Zionist Union, accused the Netanyahu government on Thursday of neglecting Israel's housing crisis and spending billions on construction beyond the Green Line, and promised a more responsible and focused approach to the country's housing problem.

"In the past six years billions of shekels have been spent on the settlements outside the settlement blocs," Herzog said at a news conference, adding that if that "huge sum" had been properly targeted "at young couples" looking for homes, "we might not have had to hold this news conference."

Herzog also addressed the current frost covering U.S.-Israel relations, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech to the U.S. Congress, which has created a diplomatic brouhaha in Washington, is a "grave strategic mistake," and called on the prime minister to cancel the address.

"I call on Netanyahu again: Stop. Enough, Bibi, enough. You aren't going. Don't go. You will cause strategic damage to Israel's standing and to the relationship with the United States," Herzog said at a press conference, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Israel goes to the polls on March 17. Herzog is running together with Tzipi Livni, aiming to replace Netanyahu as premier. If they win, the two have agreed to rotate the premiership.

Much has been written about the country's relentlessly rising housing prices. Most recently, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Wednesday released a special report on the housing crisis.

Herzog said he couldn't right now say who would head his Housing Ministry, "but I will stand at the head of this fight with personal, direct and tight oversight."

At the news conference Herzog outlined a program to deal with public housing, oversight and laws that will produce fair rents and changes in the system covering management of land for construction in Israel.

He said the system would use a smart and efficient model used by many western nations.

On March 3 Netanyahu plans to address the U.S. legislature, reiterating his warning to the world about the dangers of an agreement regarding Iran's nuclear program.

But the speech, arranged by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Speaker of the House John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, was not coordinated with President Barack Obama.

Many in Washington considered the speech an end-run around the White House and a diplomatic slap at Obama.

"The speech to Congress is a serious strategic mistake that harms the security of the citizens of Israel," Herzog said. "Netanyahu's refusal to meet with senior Democratic senators proves that this is a dangerous game in American politics."

Senior defense officials, including the prime minister's aides, have made clear to him that the speech is a mistake, Herzog said.

Protecting the security of Israel's citizens will require "intimate conversations and repair of the country's relations with the U.S.," Herzog said. He said he knew how to do this in a substantive way, not one that is aimed at "continuous spin and political survival."

Herzog's running mate Livni added that the Zionist Union will address both security and domestic matters.

"Israel knew how to successfully weather crises," Livni said. "We got through austerity, we got through wars, we came out with the upper hand. This happened when we had leadership that knew how to address problems.

"Instead of a prime minister who harasses the citizens with fears, we need one who attends to the citizens' problems.

"Israel needs a prime minister who cares about people, who lives in the country, recognizes its hardships and knows how to solve them. Herzog, my partner, is such a man and will form the next government.

"Our approach is a national one. We will attend to everyone: old and young, the ultra-orthodox and the secular, the middle class and the disadvantaged. We will attend to the settlers, ensuring that they live in blocs and not in isolated hilltops.

"We will end the discrimination that sends billions [of shekels] to the settlements, on the table and under the table."

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