Jilted Herzog Laments Netanyahu's Missed Opportunity to Make Peace With Palestinians, Mend Ties With U.S.

The Zionist Union chairman tells Haaretz the prime minister promised him the Defense Ministry, as well as a commitment to initiate a push for a peace process, before moving on to propose top position to Lieberman.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, May 16, 2016.
Emil Salman

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman the defense portfolio in an about-turn on a deal with opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the Zionist Union chairman laments what he views as a missed opportunity on the diplomatic front.

"I was the down payment that the world demanded Netanyahu pay, as proof of his seriousness ahead of initiating diplomatic negotiations and the convening of a conference," Herzog told Haaretz on Thursday.

"It's no coincidence that Sissi spoke as he did. He wanted me in, and not only him," he said, referring to the Egyptian president's recent call for an effort to begin peace talks.

More on the Netanyahu-Lieberman pact: Netanyahu using Lieberman to break Israel’s oldest elite / Anshel Pfeffer | To preserve his rule, Bibi willing to stomach his greatest political rival / Yossi Verter | Israelis will pay for Netanyahu's reckless appointment / Haaretz Editorial | Lieberman's first battle as defense minister will be against IDF / Amos Harel | What really happened between Netanyahu and Herzog? / Ari Shavit | With Lieberman, Israelis should head for the bomb shelters / Gideon Levy | Israel now torn between rule of law and rule of ruthless power / Ravit Hecht | How Blair and Sissi tried to push Zionist Union into Netanyahu's coalition / Barak Ravid

Herzog also disclosed that the prime minister promised him the defense portfolio once a new U.S. president was elected.

"I agreed with Bibi [Netanyahu] that once the new administration in the U.S. begins, we'll also get the Defense Ministry so that we could work with the Americans on two fronts – foreign policy and defense."

Speaking of the planned shift in power in the government, Herzog noted, "We were meant to appoint four of our members to the security-diplomatic cabinet. That would have completely diluted [Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali] Bennett. What power would he have had to threaten?"

"Do you know how many times Netanyahu asked to pass mitigating measures in cabinet regarding the Palestinians, ones that he had committed to, and didn’t do it for his fear of masters Bennett and Elkin?" he asked, referring to Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin. "With us on the inside it wouldn’t have happened."

The talks between Netanyahu and Herzog centered on four main issues – a diplomatic strategy that included convening a regional conference; an economic-societal agreement including added budgets for weaker segments of society; a commitment to pull back bills emanating an exclusionary and racist odor; and portfolios: the foreign affairs, agriculture, Negev and Galilee development ministries, as well as the cherry on top – the Defense Ministry at the beginning of 2017.