Opposition leader Isaac Herzog had a golden opportunity at the opening of yesterday's Knesset session to demonstrate statesmanship and his leadership meddle.
He could have said that now was the time to pull together. Now is not the time for partisan party politics.
He could have said that though he is uncomfortable with the policies and – yes – the slippery personality and character of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu …now is nonetheless to pull together.
Now is the time for a national unity government to boost morale during an ever expanding security crisis. It is not the time to talk in pointless cliches. It is time to face the harsh reality of Palestinian Arab intentions.
But what did Herzog do? He followed the advice of his media advisors who've told him he should stop talking like a wobbly wonk and act tough.
So, facing Netanyahu he declared that there is "no reason to join your failed government, a government that badly failed in handling the matter of the Iranian nuclear program, that brought us to international isolation, to an impasse and to zero percent growth of the Israeli economy and which embarked on an all-out war on freedom of speech and on the Israeli media. Netanyahu and [Jewish Home Party head Naftali] Bennett, you have to go home. Your path is what has failed. It is your policy that led us to a dead end."
He's right that this is a failed government – in no small measure because after the elections he refused broaden it. No less than Netanyahu, Herzog put politics over country.
He's right that Netanyahu mishandled the Iranian dilemma – but no one imagines that Herzog would have done better on the substance of the issue.
Though he would probably not have alienated the US administration as Netanyahu has done. Herzog would have gone in the opposite extreme.
That line about "war on freedom of speech" might seem unintelligible. I think what he means is that the government has expressed interest in having better oversight for groups funded aboard that act as agents of foreign governments (the US has a foreign agents registration act).
Or he might mean that his own undemocratic efforts to stop publication of the single newspaper in the country that is pro-Netanyahu have been stymied. I really don’t know.
Staring at Netanyahu (as sirens and ambulances were traversing the city responding to the stabbing by Palestinian Arabs in Pisgat Zeev) Herzog said he doesn't "need to be a minister in your dead-end, vision-less government. The conflict that you have been managing in recent years has turned into a knife in the back of Israel’s citizens. A knife in the back of Israel's citizens everywhere in this country. You, who promised to be Mr. Security and defense minister, have failed."
I'm no Netanyahu fan. But no one seriously imagines that Herzog has any answers. His one contribution would have been to broaden the government. He's got a bit of talent on the Labor bench that could have contributed some wisdom to the cabinet.
What would Herzog do if he were prime minister?
About the only trick up his sleeve is that Mahmoud Abbas speaks to him. He told Netanyahu: "I updated you and the public that Abu Mazen was worried, that he warned of the possibility of the outbreak of a new, third, young people's intifada, incited by Facebook and Twitter. He told me: 'I fear a loss of control over my young generation, which has lost all hope for change.' And I [Herzog] feel as if I'm sitting down with prime minister Golda Meir before the Yom Kippur War. The person who rejected every peace proposal earlier. The writing is on the wall, and you are like the three monkeys: you don’t hear, don’t see, don’t speak."
Slightly incoherent, I know. But that's Herzog.
As Dennis Ross's new book shows Netanyahu was himself willing to make massive concessions but couldn't get Palestinian agreement on security or on recognizing Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The Palestinians say the Jews have no legitimate right to be in Israel.
If Israel had pulled back to more or less the 1949 Armistice Lines (from whence the 1967 war commenced) as Herzog advocates even today, young Palestinians would have admired Abbas as bringing them closer to Israel's destruction in stages. He means that just as Golda didn't listen to her generals (not quite accurate but, no matter) Netanyahu didn't listen to General Herzog.
It is true that Abbas can't control his young people but he CAN incite them.
That's what he did in his UN speech; that's what he did earlier when he spoke of Jews polluting the Temple Mount with their feet, and that's what he does when his (EU funded) media circulate articles and images and sermons that are anti-Semitic and inculcate hatred of Jews.
Abbas and Herzog share one thing: both are ever more irrelevant to what's happening on the ground.