What happens in Paris, doesn’t always stay in Paris

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Op-ed: The Labor party was all up in arms this week over chairman Herzog’s comment that the two- state solution is not relevant at the moment; the outrage was so monumental that it even led Shelly Yachimovich to utter the words ‘Livni is right.’

Shock and awe – this is how the members of the Labor party described their reaction to the remarks made by their party leader, Isaac Herzog, in his meeting with French President Francois Hollande
last weekend. It reached a point when even the party’s secretary-general, Hilik Bar, who would normally not even attack a Hadera branch secretary, was heard in an audio recording leaked to Channel 2 leveling harsh criticism against Herzog.

In the recording, which sounds more like it was done in a recording studio than in secret – which raises the suspicion Bar himself leaked it – he is heard talking to some unknown listener, an imaginary friend, and saying: “Even though you know I love Buji (Herzog’s nickname) and you know I help him and want only the best for him … if I wasn’t the party’s secretary-general, I’d slam Buji ten times as hard as what Shelly (Yachimovich) did … what is this, what is this unnecessary and dangerous and absurd comment from Buji, what the hell was he thinking when he said it? What right and what authority does he have to say the two state solution is not relevant … He’s the head of the Labor party, dammit. He’s the fucking leader of the opposition.”

And so Bar continues with his soliloquy (the listener, for some reason, doesn’t cut him off at any point throughout the entire conversation) and slams the head of the Zionist Union who, in Bar’s opinion, does not realize that he’s the leader of a “massive and numerous” camp and that he, Bar, is worried Herzog will realize this only when Lapid demolishes the Zionist Union.

Well, this criticism didn’t last for very long. Bar immediately issued a heartbreaking apology.

But Bar is not the only one. Herzog’s comments in Paris managed to enrage the senior Labor MKs. Even Yachimovich, who is extremely cautious about criticizing the sitting chairman, could not keep quiet this time and unleashed scathing criticism of Herzog’s remarks.

The Labor party claims that Herzog got nervous from recent polls, which show Lapid gaining momentum and rising in the number of seats his party could get at the Knesset, while the Zionist Union is losing the very same number of seats, and decided to do what Lapid is doing – break hard to the center. His party members were already horrified when he suggested, in a Facebook post, electrifying the fences around settlements: This even Lapid wouldn’t dare propose.

I asked Livni how she can live with the things Herzog is saying. “The Zionist Union was formed on the basis of ideology and national vision,” she says. “My positions are clear. My vision doesn’t deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state, not even in two nation states. It deals with safeguarding the Jewish and democratic state. And in order to achieve that, we need to reach an accord based on two nation states. But at any point in time,” Livni says, “we need to promote moves that safeguard this vision and ensure we’re not prevented in the future from doing so. This to me is the basis of the partnership that formed the Zionist Union. The debate inside the Labor party is not relevant to me as long as they stay with this vision.”

 

I don’t understand. Are you backing Herzog, or disagreeing with him?

“I wouldn’t choose his wording,” Livni says, “but I also wouldn’t say he conceded our principles. I don’t want to pick a side, because it’s a discussion which is partly semantic and partly political. I say this so it’s clear that the Zionist Union is more than the Labor party. In principle, Herzog is part of this vision. His use of wording is what gives a different impression.”

Herzog may have had to ward off in-house attacks this week, but he sounded pleased nevertheless – he managed to turn an ideological issue into a topic of debate. “So what if Shelly attacked,” he says, “and Hilik said and apologized. And why is that? Because I said Netanyahu and Abbas were unable to move an inch? They blew it out of all proportion, as if I was abandoning the two states vision.

“I think a leader’s role, even if his political camp is not too crazy about it, is to guide it towards reality. In my comments, I started with the fact that we are committed to the two-state solution, but in the midst of a wave of terrorism, when both leaders are unable to even be in the same room together, we need to demand separation in order to prevent a bi-national state. We’re perceived as left, but we’re a classic, historic kind of centrist party, that believes in peace but primarily believes in protecting Israel’s security.”

In two weeks, the Zionist Union will hold a diplomatic conference, during which Herzog plans on presenting his plan, which he already spoke about at the INSS conference this week. “All of the plans now are based on the Clinton Parameters,” he says, “but what do we do until then? After all, Hilik Bar’s plan will be met with reality at some point, and it doesn’t say what the immediate steps that must be taken are. What is happening right now is an in-house debate, and I’m ready for that debate. But since when is the establishment of a Palestinian state the Labor party’s topmost value? So for now, let’s lower the potential for violence and suffering.”

“After all, it can’t be that we see such horrifying things every day and do nothing,” he says. “Where are the fences, where are the walls? Yes, electric fences, why not. I’m willing to take any measure that reduces the level of violence. After all, we can yell all day long that a Palestinian state needs to be established and nothing would happen.”

Herzog’s diplomatic plan includes our separation from the Palestinians, moving behind the walls and fences on the separation border, and a long period of adjustment as both peoples get used to the new reality, which will eventually bear fruit with a peace accord.

Except members of his party are not really buying it. A party activist posted on Facebook a recording of Herzog’s speech from a few months ago, in which he says that unilateral steps are a mistake. Several months have gone by, the party’s activists say, and he’s singing a different tune. If they had only seen him going through a process, looking for solutions, raising different theses and considering changes in the party’s authenticity worldwide, they could’ve respected that.

But he went to Paris and issued a hysterical statement to the press because Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi are making him nervous. The problem is, Labor members say, that this is how he does things. It’s not that he has an agenda – everything is a response to something happening right at the tip of his nose at that moment. Tomorrow he could come out with something very left-wing. They don’t mind it if he glances to the right, trying to move to the center, but saying there’s no partner, that Israel needs to make unilateral moves?

Herzog realizes he’s made a mistake, they say at the Labor party, but he has no way to get out of this mess. It was a difficult week in the Labor party. Every moment brought with it another attack on social media. Livni distanced herself from his statements. He even got Livni and Shelly to bond over this. For Yachimovich to write the words “Livni is right” on Facebook – well, that in itself is a historic event.


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