Israel’s opposition Labor Party elected parliament member Isaac Herzog as its new leader in an upset victory over incumbent Shelly Yachimovich, a change that could help peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Results announced by party officials at a press conference today following balloting yesterday showed Herzog taking 58 percent of the vote, and Yachimovich 42 percent. A poll conducted by television’s Channel 2 news last week had Yachimovich leading by about 30 percentage points.
Herzog, 53, a lawyer before entering politics, is the son of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog and has held several ministerial positions in previous governments. Yachimovich is a former journalist who has emphasized economic issues during her political career, rather than peacemaking with the Palestinians, a traditional Labor focus.
“Herzog is an experienced political figure with established positions on peace and security issues, who is more capable of unifying the center-left than Yachimovich,” said David Newman, a political scientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. The new Labor leader will also probably be more open to the possibility of joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition under certain conditions, Newman said in a phone interview.
Herzog, speaking after his victory, said “brave steps” were needed now to reach peace with the Palestinians. “I’m not sure -- I have serious doubts -- if Prime Minister Netanyahu understands this, or can take these actions,” Herzog said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio.
Labor is the third-biggest party in Israel’s parliament, holding 15 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, and leads the opposition. Labor last held power under Ehud Barak in 2001.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, congratulated Herzog and called on Labor to join the government in order to advance peace efforts.
“Now, after Labor has completed its internal elections, it has to decide if it’s going to be a party that sits in the wings, or one that is going to come center stage in order to help change the future scenario for all of us -- because the peace process needs its unconditional support,” Livni said in an e-mailed statement.