Herzog and Livni Must Not Become Netanyahu's Fig Leafs

Instead of joining a unity government, they must present a clear alternative to Likud's destructive policies from the opposition, and develop a political force that will eventually replace rightist rule.

Haaretz Editorial
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A Tel Aviv billboard flips between campaign ads showing Netanyahu and Herzog. March 14, 2015
A Tel Aviv billboard flips between campaign ads showing Netanyahu and Herzog. March 14, 2015Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has started the process of putting together a government, and once again there are reports that because of difficulties in the talks with the right-wing parties, the ultra-Orthodox and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, he will suggest to Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni that they join a unity government.

Herzog has reiterated that his party will sit in opposition, but his declarations sound more like reconciliation to his defeat in the election than a principled stand denying any possible political partnership with Likud.

That Herzog and Livni might be tempted to hook up with Netanyahu is understandable; neither excelled during their terms as opposition leader and, like Shimon Peres before them, they prefer the illusion of “influencing from within.” There are also plenty of excuses available: Israel is expected to face enormous international pressure and be threatened by sanctions because of its stubborn continuation of the occupation and the settlements; a narrow right-wing government will advance anti-democratic legislation like the Jewish nation-state law and the law restricting foreign funding for NGOs, and will try to turn the judicial system into a branch of the Likud; repressive measures against Arab citizens will only intensify, and they will not be blocked by a government of the right, the Haredim and Kulanu.

Despite all these reasons, Herzog and Livni dare not be tempted by Netanyahu’s honey trap to enter the government, to serve as shields against international pressure from without and blows to democracy from within. They must remain in opposition and do there what they feared to do during the election campaign: present an alternative to the destructive policies of the Likud government, and develop a political force that will eventually replace the rule of the right.

Netanyahu said during the campaign that there’s an “ideological chasm” between him and the Labor party. He was correct, and made that clear when he declared that no Palestinian state would be established during his term, and by his racist comment on Election Day about ‘droves” Arabs coming out to vote. Herzog and Livni have no place in a government whose head seeks to intensify the occupation and sees a fifth of Israel’s citizens as enemies of the state.

The problem is not just ideology, but practical politics. The junior partners in a “unity government” lose their identities and get punished at the ballot box. That’s what happened in these elections to Yair Lapid, who succumbed to temptation and joined up with Netanyahu in 2013.

Herzog and Livni erred in not declaring unequivocally that they would not sit in a Netanyahu government. It isn’t too late to clarify that now. Israel needs a strong opposition that will speak with a clear voice against the occupation and the undermining of civil rights and the legal system. That must be the task of Zionist Union, rather than to serve as a public diplomacy arm of the Likud.

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