While the opinion polls tab Yitzhak Herzog, co-leader of the opposition Zionist Camp party (former Labor) a highly credible contender for ousting Binyamin Netanyahu, the same credibility does not characterize the four pledges he made to the voter ahead of the March 17 election – however sincere his intentions.
In his first 100 days as prime minister, Herzog vowed if he is elected to lead the campaign to bring down the prohibitive cost of housing; mend Israel’s relations with the United States, i.e. the Obama administration; revive peace talks with the Palestinians; and create a “regional platform” for Israel’s foreign relations.
The last three goals would, he promised, be subject to considerations of Israel’s nation security.
All these are worthy causes. They were put forward by a politician taking center stage for the first time after decades on the sidelines, who suddenly has an even chance to reach the pinnacle. But they are no more feasible than the promises heard from run-of-the-mill, cynical politicians.
Netanyahu’s Likud campaigners were remiss in not picking up on this weakness in their rival's platforfm and proving it was populist cant.
1. Affordable housing for an entire class of needy young couples can obviously not be brought forth with a snap of the fingers; it takes infrastructure, tax reform and two to three years to put in place.
If Herzog upholds his deal with Zionist Camp co-leader Tzipi Livni to share the premiership and hand the reins of government over to her after two years, i.e. April 2017, then this pre-election pledge may not materialize during his entire term as prime minister – but hers.
2. The White House may be presumed to be gladly preparing to welcome Netanyahu’s potential successor for an early visit – if he wins the election and heads the next government.
But any winner with not much more than one-fifth of the Knesset seats will need a couple of months at the least to negotiate with partners and build a coalition government. So the White House need not expect a visit before late May or early June.
But in the meantime, teams in Washington and the Zionist Camp’s Tel Aviv headquarters are no doubt working on a joint communiqué for the two leaders that would reflect Herzog’s support for Obama’s policies on the nuclear accord under negotiation with Iran and the Palestinian issue.
After all, Herzog promised repeatedly that he would repair Israel’s relations with Washington, after the damage wrought by Netanyahu.
To this end, the draft communiqués will most certainly avoid referring to Iran’s drive for expanded influence and military dominance across the region – from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen to Israel’s doorstep on the Golan and South Lebanon, where the Iranian military already presents a potential security threat.
There is no doubt that Herzog genuinely cares about the country’s security. However, in order to fulfill his best intentions for better relations with Washington, he will have to avoid this minefield.
No power on earth, with the possible exception of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has proved able to distract Obama from his determined drive to achieve a nuclear accord between Washington and Tehran and, as part of the deal, to start lifting the economic and financial sanctions imposed on Iran to halt the weaponization of its nuclear program.
The deal is almost in the bag.
Taking it as a given, the P5+1 group (Russia, China, France, Britain, and the US plus Germany) which negotiated the accord, was this week secretly discussing how to start relaxing UN sanctions on Iran by mean s of a new UN Security Council resolution.
This resolution would be intended to make the deal binding, and the Obama administration would use the world body for an “end-run” around the US Congress and override its objections to the deal as non-binding without legislative ratification.
The US president could then present the Iranian leader with a binding deal endorsed by the UN Security Council.
This extreme stratagem is a mark of Obama’s ruthless determination to get the accord through by any means, even at the price of undermining Congress. It is his answer to Binyamin Netanyahu’s convincing arguments against “a bad deal" and its enthusiastic reception in Congress.
So where would this leave the well-intentioned Herzog and his partner Livni?
They have accused the Likud prime minister of jeopardizing the traditional US bipartisan support of Israel by an alliance with the Republican Senate majority, thereby alienating the Democrats on the other side of the aisle. However, if they lined up with Obama on the Middle East and even Iran for the sake of putting the quarrel with Netanyahu to rest, Herzog would have to favor ties with the Democrats over the Republicans. Would that policy be more bipartisan?
And how would that work when Obama’s unknown successor enters the White House in 2017?
3. Herzog and Livni may be eager to go back to peace talks with the Palestinians. But where is their partner? The next government will almost certainly release the tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority that the Netanyahu government suspended after Mahmoud Abbas filed unilateral charges against Israel at the international war crimes court. It will also likely acquiesce to Washington’s “suggestions” for a couple more concessions to the Palestinians. US Secretary of State John Kerry may even arrive for another visit or two to Jerusalem and Ramallah for a lame attempt to get the negotiating ball rolling again.
But by now, Abbas is far out of reach, busy pursuing the unilateral course he adopted more than a year ago after giving up on the Obama administration and its peace diplomacy.
Herzog, Livni and Kerry might as well write him off.
4. The “regional platform” which the Zionist Camp leader promises to embrace is just as nebulous because Herzog will find that he can’t have it both ways.
If he decides to espouse Obama’s policies, he will instantly alienate Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisis, who entered into limited cooperation with Netanyahu to oppose those very policies on behalf of the Sunni Muslim Arab world. As soon as he starts doing business with the Obama administration, Herzog's "regional platform" will sink in the sand.