The agreement that was signed tonight between the powers and Iran is a fait accompli and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation. A question mark remains regarding the end of the process, and on this matter the Israeli concern is justified. Accordingly, Netanyahu must do everything in his power to fix the damage caused by the public clash with the United States and to return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders.
This statement is consistent with those Herzog made before winning the Labor primaries. On November 9th at an event in the Israeli city of Nes Tsiyona, he said the following:
It may well be that the agreement being formulated and the new situation [it creates] will actually be good for Israel despite [the fact that] Israel has no influence over them. We must wait and see the end result of the negotiations, and it should be clear that a basic condition for an agreement is an absolute freeze of the enrichment program. The West has an historic opportunity to bring about a change towards Iran and to dismantle [its] military nuclear [capacity].
Both Herzog’s case for waiting for the final results to come in and his recognition that the current agreement may ultimately be positive for Israel are vastly divergent from official Israeli positions. Earlier this year, after Netanyahu’s yearly appearance at the United Nations, Herzog wrote an op-ed the daily newspaper that favors the Prime Minster, Yisrael HaYom (“Israel Today”), in which he unforgivingly criticized Netanyahu for his policy on Iran, writing that “[the speech] did not accommodate the possibility, however remote, for strategic change in Iran.” Herzog’s indictment continued:
Unfortunately Jerusalem knows how to function only according to one activation code. For Israel’s government, international relations are meaningless. [For Israel’s government] there are no internal-political interests [in other countries]. The sole interest of the international arena revolves around Israel.
Herzog also recognizes the important place of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in dealing with Iran. The Israeli government has pushed the—obviously correct, yet thoroughly irrelevant—fact that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the cause of all of the problems in the Middle East hard on the international community, effectively disconnecting the discussion on Iran from the Palestinians. Contrary to this, Herzog, writes in his political platform that, “An Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough will aid Arab regimes in partnering with Israel against the Iranian nuclear program and increase the West’s commitment to Israel.” He adds that, “a political agreement and the presence of Western inspectors will increase the West’s commitment to Israel’s security. Israel should strive for a comprehensive political agreement with international casing as a key to consolidating a front against Iran.”
At the same November 9th event where Herzog addressed the then-potential Iran deal, he spoke to importance of the peace process:
Netanyahu should understand that his policy on the Iranian issue has failed and that he did not succeed in convincing the powers. Had he tied his position to a courageous political process [with the Palestinians] he might have penetrated their hearts more deeply.
The Labor Chairman has also repeatedly mentioned the centrality of the Arab Peace Initiative—an option consistently dismissed by the current government—as a potential bridge between Israel and the Arab world.1 Herzog has expressed precisely the position that the American government has called upon Israel to adopt: recognition of the linkages between Israel’s policy issues, and acknowledging that progress on one can help solve the other.
Herzog is now in a unique position to open the opposition’s doors to the international community and make the Labor Party the address for Israeli cooperation on Iran. He is no less committed than Netanyahu to the prevention of a nuclear Iran, and as opposition leader, he holds a public position that will bring his prudent and measured voice to the fore.
With regard to the U.S.-Israel relationship, Herzog potentially represents a more effective partner for the current American administration. In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, President Obama named dealing with Iran and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as his two main agenda items in the region. Yet Netanyahu continues to openly clash with the U.S. on these items, leading to more tension than the relationship has seen in years. This is bad for both countries. With Herzog challenging the Prime Minister in the Knesset, the Labor Party may yet present a viable alternative to the current government.