March 1st, 2015
02:21 PM ET

Israeli Opposition Leader: "Netanyahu's speech in Congress is a mistake"


CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Isaac Herzog, member of Israel’s Knesset and chairman of the Labour Party.  He spoke about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress, nuclear negotiations with Iran, whether a two-state solution with the Palestinians is still  viable, and the U.S. – Israel relationship.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On whether a two-state solution with the Palestinians is still viable

ZAKARIA: The Israeli NGO Peace Now has released a report that says that there has been a 40 percent rise in settlement activity, construction, in the West Bank, since last year. A lot of people believe, at this point, a two-state solution is really going to be very, very difficult.  Do you believe, if you were prime minister, that there is an actual path to a two-state solution, and what is it?

HERZOG: It is still realistic. I don’t agree with all these opinions. I think that it is viable. However, right now, our relationship with the Palestinians is at a dead-end. It's actually one of the worst periods in the relationship. The Palestinians opted for unilateralism. They’ve come forward with unilateral steps, both to the Security Council as well as going to the International Criminal Court against our soldiers, who have protected our nation against Palestinian terror from Hamas.

VIDEO

Herzog on Netanyahu's trip to Congress

Herzog on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

 
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Welcome back to GPS from Amman, Jordan. On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the United States Congress to warn it directly of the Iranian nuclear threat. It’s a move National Security Advisor Susan Rice called "destructive to the fabric of the relationship" between the two allies.

Two weeks later, Israel will hold national elections. Labor Party chairman and leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog has emerged as Bibi's chief rival for the job. A poll this week had their two parties tied for the top number of seats in the new parliament. He joined me from Tel Aviv.
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ZAKARIA: Mr. Herzog, pleasure to have you on.
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAEL’S OPPOSITION LEADER: It's a pleasure to be with you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: This week, you said that Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to speak to the United States Congress two weeks before the election without informing the White House was political spin. What did you mean by that?

HERZOG: Let me make it clear to the American public and to our viewers that there is no difference in Israel as to the strategic threat that emanates from the Iranian nuclear program. Clearly, no Israeli leader - and me included - will ever accept a nuclear Iran.

However, the way to deal with it, in my mind, should be different. And I think that Netanyahu's speech in Congress is a mistake. One needs to work together intimately with those who are negotiating the international agreement with Iran and make sure that this agreement is ironclad on delivery, namely that there will be - never be an Iranian nuclear bomb.

When arguments emanate, such as the argument surrounding the speech of Netanyahu in Congress, there are questions that are raised. There is daylight between us and the administration. And that's not good.

ZAKARIA: And you would not have gone - had you been prime minister, you would not have accepted the invitation to speak to Congress two weeks before the election?

HERZOG: I would make sure that nothing of this sort would be viewed as partisan in any way. The United States was always strategic for us. It was never partisan. Israel knew how to work the floor on both sides and keep unique relations with both parties. And I definitely believe that it is a mistake to present an elected official in the United States with a question whether he prefers the White House or he prefers Israel.

There's no - there's... that shouldn't be even a question, because we have common grounds and we have a - you know, we share the same objective, of making sure that Iran won't have nuclear weapons. Iran is a rogue state, a dangerous state. Iran spreads hatred all over the world. And Iran should be demanded by the international community in these negotiations to make it clear that it accepts Israel as part of the family of nations rather than calling for its eradication.

These are the issues that we should be talking about. We should define intimately between the administrations what is exactly a bad deal, because the president himself said, rightly so, that a bad deal, then there's no deal.

ZAKARIA: The Israeli NGO Peace Now has released a report that says that there has been a 40 percent rise in settlement activity, construction, in the West Bank, since last year. A lot of people believe, at this point, a two-state solution is really going to be very, very difficult.

Do you believe, if you were prime minister, that there is an actual path to a two-state solution, and what is it?
HERZOG: It is still realistic. I don’t agree with all these opinions. I think that it is viable.

However, right now, our relationship with the Palestinians is at a dead-end. It's actually one of the worst periods in the relationship. The Palestinians opted for unilateralism. They’ve come forward with unilateral steps, both to the Security Council as well as going to the International Criminal Court against our soldiers, who have protected our nation against Palestinian terror from Hamas.

We will stop the unilateral action by the Palestinians, and we will try to reignite the process. I will definitely try to reignite a political process with the Palestinians by way of including our neighbors in this process, such as Egypt and Jordan on a regional platform, and trying our best again, not to give up, but trying our best again.

ZAKARIA: What do you make of this recent court decision in the United States awarding damages against the Palestinian Authority? If you are trying to make peace, is that - is that something that is hurt - you know, is not going to help, because you need a partner? Or is it something that has to be done? How do you view it?

HERZOG: First and foremost, we need to negotiate. That's what we need to do. We need to talk to each other.

I've met Mr. Abbas, President Abbas, a couple of times in the last year. And I must say, I actually asked him, do you believe that there will be a day when you will be able to come to an agreement with an Israeli leader? He wasn't sure about his answer. And I really say to - and I say to our viewers - we - first and foremost, we need to build trust with our neighbors. We need to extend our hand and see what and how they are coming into this again - yet again, not to give up, try.

I'm not naive. I think that it will be much more difficult to start again, but we should start again.

ZAKARIA: What would be the biggest difference, Mr. Herzog, between you being prime minister and Bibi Netanyahu being prime minister a month from now?

HERZOG: Listen, there are many differences. First of all, internally, I offer a totally different economic, social and economic platform, which strengthens and empowers the people, which returns money to them, which has a better division of income in our society and gives them hope.

And secondly, I want to bring hope to our people, to my people, as well as to our neighbors. I believe that in our region, everybody ought to live quiet, tranquil, and successful life. We have to do - whatever we can to give hope to our children and to the next generations.

And I will try my best. I will try again. I will talk to the region. Israel should be part of that coalition which fights extremism and works together towards peace and works together towards stability in the Middle East.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Herzog, pleasure to have you on.

HERZOG: Thank you, Fareed.

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ZAKARIA: That was Israel’s Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog. We asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to appear, but he declined our invitation.

### END INTERVIEW ###


Topics: Fareed Zakaria • Fareed Zakaria GPS • Iran • ISIS • Israel
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