Israel’s Herzog Doubts Netanyahu’s Commitment to Peace

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Isaac Herzog, the new leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, said he doubted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to buck political pressure and sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“I’m not sure he has the guts,” Herzog said today in an interview. “I say to Netanyahu -- if you fail I will replace you and we will do it.”

The son of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, the Labor party leader also criticized Netanyahu for what he described as a weak response to Israel’s 22 percent poverty rate, the highest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. He said he would raise taxes on the rich to help the poor and divert government funds from West Bank settlements to develop less populated areas in Israel’s south and north.

Herzog has restored the Labor party traditional focus on the peace process after his surprise victory in a November primary vote. While voicing concern about Israel’s widening income disparity, Herzog, 53, said he’ll mobilize parliamentary support to prod Netanyahu into signing a peace treaty with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He praised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for making a “herculean effort” to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and said disparaging remarks made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon about Kerry show the opposition Netanyahu faces in his own party.

“Time is running out and we are nearing the moment of truth,” said Herzog. “The problem is whether the current leadership can take this challenge and deal with it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Jerusalem at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net