Does Herzog Honestly Expect Bibi to Change?

Netanyahu refuses to change his policy toward the Palestinians, and is unlikely to stop being the Bibi we know: One that humiliates the IDF deputy chief, insults the defense minister and bickers with President Obama.

Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, May 15, 2016.
Emil Salman

The surprising calls by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi for “parties in Israel” to give peace a chance will certainly reverberate through Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog’s speech to the Labor Central Committee, which he plans to convene on Sunday if he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reach an agreement on Zionist Union’s entry into the coalition.

On the reasonable assumption that Netanyahu has a strong relationship with the Egyptian president, al-Sissi’s statements can certainly be chalked up in Netanyahu’s favor. Netanyahu would love to have such influence over the president sitting just a few kilometers away from his office. Over the past few days, President Reuven Rivlin has been approached both by people close to Netanyahu and people close to Herzog, asking him to call publicly for Herzog to join the government, thus to soften resistance in Labor.

Rivlin has so far declined to do so. He is in favor of unity. But he knows who is involved here, particularly one of them, and is fed up with promises and disappointments. He does not want to be a pawn.

A regional conference would be a fine gift for Herzog to present to the Labor Central Committee delegates. What will happen then? Nothing.

Netanyahu will not change his attitude to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian-Israeli question in general. As of Tuesday Netanyahu was adamant in his refusal of Herzog’s demands to change the coalition’s platform and include a pledge to seek a two-state solution, along with a public pledge on some sort of a freeze on construction outside the major settlement blocs.

The premier is not likely to stop being the Bibi we know: the one who humiliates the deputy IDF chief of staff, insults the defense minister, bickers with President Obama and thumbs his nose at the international community from the Golan Heights. This is the bed that the Zionist Union and Labor chairman is so eager to get into.

The Herzog we knew, the compromiser and seeker of consensus, has changed. The teddy bear has become a grizzly. Every assault by the leader of the opposition in his party, MK Shelly Yacimovich, is met by an equally harsh rejoinder.

After three days of self-imposed silence, when Yacimovich thought Herzog had abandoned the idea of joining the coalition and after a number of talks between them, she went at Herzog full force. She promised Tuesday, in media interviews and an angry post on her Facebook page in which she compared Herzog to a dog thrown a scrawny bone by Netanyahu, that she would fight him politically in the Knesset, in the public sphere and legally.

Precedent is against her: The Labor Central Committee has never said no to a unity government, which at least over the past two decades has meant Labor ministers serving as fig leaves for Likud premiers, particularly Netanyahu.

Until proven otherwise, Yacimovich should be given credit for a vehement opposition stemming from ideology; the powerful Economy Ministry portfolio is waiting for her. Fully aware, she has chosen to forego a ministerial position, the first in her career.