Kafe Knesset for Feb. 20

The Haaretz expose on the secret Aqaba regional summit last year brought color back to the cheeks of opposition leader Isaac Herzog. A supporting actor in the tale of the failed attempts to launch a regional process, Herzog grasped the opportunity to try and present his version of last year’s “wag the dog” scenario, in which covert diplomatic moves coincided with meddling inside Israeli politics. “I am glad the truth has come out,” he wrote last night on Facebook, after doing numerous media rounds in which he shared his perspective on the events that surrounded his negotiations over forming a unity government with Netanyahu in March-May 2016. “I know that many people were angry at me,” he added, referring to the old and vicious internal fight his contacts with Netanyahu created in his party. “I did everything for the country and to prevent coffins of dead Israeli soldiers and citizens.”

Recuperating from a slight stroke just two weeks ago and grasping with negative opinion polls, the vibrant discussion of the summit brought Herzog back to the spotlight and to his element. In July, Herzog’s seat as Labor Party leader is up for grabs, and news of the summit gives Herzog the perfect explanation for those colleagues who were discontent with his ongoing contacts with Netanyahu: that there was a historic opportunity which justified forming a unity government. “What happened was amazing,” he said today, speaking to the Conference of Presidents annual gathering in Jerusalem. “I worked with Netanyahu on a draft appendix to our agreement, which had included certain steps that were quite dramatic. Had these steps been agreed upon, namely, had he agreed at the end to go for it, it would have changed the region. Netanyahu simply reneged on basic understandings which we had.” Herzog recalled the political turn events took in May 2016 when Bibi decided to invite Avigdor Liberman to join his government, instead. “These understandings, had they been fulfilled, would have prevented the catastrophe of UN Security Council vote. History will judge Netanyahu on that failure, unfortunately,” he said.

Herzog joined other political leaders who addressed the Conference of Presidents gathering today weighing in on some of the topics dominating the US-Israel relationship these days. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, interviewed by Channel 2’s Amit Segal, criticized Netanyahu and his embrace of the Trump admin. “It’s clear that anti-Trump sentiment is a big issues in the Jewish community, we’re at the risk of losing a generation. The majority, around 70%, are Democrats and that increases with young people. We’re not doing a good enough job and some of it is because internal political issues – foreign affairs are split between 6 ministers and public diplomacy between 5. It is mishandled in too many ways. It is OK to celebrate that we have what seems to be a friendlier administration but we have to remember that one of the sources of Israel’s strength in the United States is that we were always bipartisan. It will be a huge mistake to affiliate ourselves with one party. The Prime Minister is considered, not entirely through any fault of his own, to be an Israeli Republican and if this is the case we have to work harder on approaching Democrats not only in the House and the Senate but on campuses, in cities and across states. It should be a joint venture between Israel and American Jewish leaders to make sure we remain a bipartisan issue.”

Bayit Yehudi Chairman, Minister Naftali Bennett also addressed the audience on the topic of the first days of the new administration: “We must be clear about our positions but open for dialogue. I’m happy to see that Netanyahu and Trump are open to discussing new ideas after 24 years of exactly the same.”

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