After All These Years, How Can Anyone Still Believe Netanyahu?

After the failure of talks with the PM, Herzog is in too miserable a state to represent anyone who wants to oust Netanyahu.

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

Yossi Verter published the most depressing story of the week in last Friday’s Haaretz. It turns out that on March 30, Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel went to the prime minister’s residence. He says he told Benjamin Netanyahu, “I’m coming to you with a complete lack of trust.” Yet by the end of the meeting, according to Cabel, he was already convinced the premier was serious about Zionist Union joining the coalition. Years and years without trust had vanished in a single session.

Cabel seems unable to comprehend how infuriating and disappointing his naveté is when he tells Verter: “I would get up at night and say to Noa, my wife, ‘You won’t believe what he’s ready to give us.’”

It’s a shame to waste words on everything Cabel and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog have previously said about Netanyahu. Suffice to say that Netanyahu met with Cabel in 2009, in an attempt to convince him to support bringing Labor into the government. At that time, Cabel was apparently less desperate and knew how to refuse the offer. Even so, it didn’t prevent then-Labor leader Ehud Barak from signing up. Barak also presumably told his wife Nili that he couldn’t believe what Netanyahu was willing to give. That all ended with Barak’s resignation, after Netanyahu ignored his advice about unilateral separation from the Palestinians or diplomatic negotiations.

In May 2012, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, also acting out of political despair, decided to “test” Netanyahu. Mofaz forgot he had previously called Netanyahu a “liar” and promised not to join his government. He probably also told his wife he couldn’t believe what Netanyahu was willing to give. Netanyahu promised to reform the military draft law and change the electoral system (“by December!”). The partnership ended without a draft law or change in the electoral system.

In the meantime, Netanyahu sent then-President Shimon Peres for a secret round of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Peres ran and returned, not believing how far Netanyahu was willing to go. But when the time came to bring a map showing proposed borders to Abbas, Netanyahu asked to postpone the meeting. To this day, it has yet to be rescheduled.

In 2013, Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni joined Netanyahu’s government. She probably told her husband she couldn’t believe how far Netanyahu was willing to go. So far, in fact, that she was prepared to forget all those speeches in which she outlined why Netanyahu couldn’t be believed. It all ended with another flameout (Livni somehow managed to blame Abbas, of all people) and she was ousted from the government.

Herzog’s people are still convinced Netanyahu was serious about the recent coalition talks. In the same breath, though, they describe “shifting sands” and how the premier was “easily influenced,” describing inconceivable situations during the negotiations. It turns out Netanyahu didn’t have a single sacred principle: he was willing to throw out the NGO law (in which nonprofits must declare overseas sources of funding), along with a law preventing nongovernmental organizations funding political campaigns, and others. A few days later, Netanyahu reportedly changed his mind. Not because they were important to him, but because he was unable to prevent them.

The same was true of the natural gas framework, for which the prime minister had fought so hard. It, too, was jettisoned in a second (Cabel was supposed to formulate a new deal). Netanyahu was also willing to give Herzog a veto on construction in the settlements (not including the Jewish cities in the territories), as though he hasn’t fought until now to prevent such a public declaration. Did Herzog and Cabel really think they could change this man?

Since the collapse of the coalition negotiations, Herzog and Cabel are explaining why they had to try, and that anyone willing to talk with the Palestinians can certainly conduct negotiations with the Israeli prime minister. They’re underdogs, kind of. Romantics. I love underdogs. If I happen to see a game on television between two teams I’m unfamiliar with, I’m automatically rooting for the side expected to lose. Being an underdog is cool. But being an underdog dogged with despair and deceit – that’s something else.

During last week’s Labor Party spat, Shelly Yacimovich took to Facebook to compare Herzog to a dog. That was an unfortunate statement, and he should have repudiated it immediately. Still, Herzog really does need to resign. In his miserable state, he can’t represent a single person who wants to replace Netanyahu.