Yitzhak Herzog
Yitzhak HerzogMiriam Alster/Flash 90

Labor-Hatnua leader and prime ministerial candidate Yitzhak Herzog was confronted with tough questions Sunday, in a last-minute pre-elections interview with Walla! News

Herzog was asked about his disastrous confrontation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Saturday night on Channel 2, whereby he floundered and promised to "keep Netanyahu united" instead of "keep Jerusalem united," despite the fact that he was informed of the mini-debate and Netanyahu was caught by surprise. 

Herzog nonetheless claimed that "Netanyahu evaded answering, he would not even answer the question about whether the head of the largest party would form the government" and that he "goes on to mock the public, to ignore real-life issues." 

"I am ready to be prime minister," he concluded.

In response, Walla! confronted the hopeful with damning statistics from its own surveys indicating that some 48% of the Israeli public prefers Netanyahu as prime minister - even if Labor is ahead in projected seats - and that a paltry 28% believe Herzog is most suitable for the job. 

Herzog dismissed the evidence, claiming the other surveys - specifically one survey from the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA; Channel 1) showed he was "almost closing the gap." 

He added that he would make a better prime minister because the public can begin with lower expectations, and that the "people want change," regardless of the numbers. 

"I'm going to take responsibility and give hope to the Israeli public and solve its problems," he insisted. 

'I am more experienced'

Herzog was then asked why his experience, specifically, qualifies him to be prime minister. His own assessment indicates that his qualifications include being the Welfare Minister and heading the political-security Cabinet, but Walla! noted that - under those terms - Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Yuval Steinitz (Likud), and Eli Yishai (Yachad-Ha'am Itanu) are equally as qualified. 

"My qualifications to be prime minister include the fact that I was the head of the largest party," he responded. "When I was first elected to leadership I was not given so many opportunities to prove myself, but slowly and surely I built the ability to lead the country. My qualifications include the fact that I have spent years in the public eye, that I served in five ministerial positions, and made the most difficult decisions within the political-security cabinet - ones with international ramifications."

"My experience is not the experience of not raising housing prices, raising cost of living and increasing social inequalities," he stated, in another apparent shot at Netanyahu.

Regarding his experience with "international ramifications," Herzog was then asked whether he had the experience to - if need be - give the order to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to attack Iran. The interviewer noted that Herzog has never served as Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, or Public Security Minister, and asked whether it would be more prudent for him to instead serve in one of these positions under a Netanyahu government before setting his sights on the premiership. 

Rather than answering, Herzog rejected the question. 

"There is something disparaging to your question, something that rejects democracy," he fired back.

"Democracy means electing a new team and replacing the old," he continued. "Sometimes a new team arises with less experience - I am here with a lot of experience. I come with more experience than US Presidents Barack Obama or Harry Truman, and more experience than Netanyahu when he first came into office."

Herzog similarly dismissed the claim that Labor-Hatnua - whose slogan is "It's Us or Him" - has avoided addressing any major campaign issue, including criminal sanctions against haredi draft-dodgers and peace talks with the Palestinians.

He also dismissed the notion that many have expressed: that Labor-Hatnua's economic policies have been so vague that the public is unsure on which side of the socialist-capitalist dividing line the party falls. Both he claimed are "inaccuracies," and promised to restart Israel's economy, better relations with the US, and reignite peace talks - within his first 100 days of office. 

When finally pressed on the haredi issue, Herzog made clear that he's for the Equal Burden of Service law, but indicated that criminal sanctions were "exclusive of an entire group" and require "dialogue." 

Then, when asked straight out whether that was a "no" to criminal sanctions, Herzog snapped that he "never said that" and that asking such questions is putting issues in black and white when there are really a lot of grey areas. 

Coalition: Who Would Herzog Pick?

Herzog was then asked a series of questions about the coalition, if given the chance to form the next government.

The Labor-Hatnua leader opined that votes for Lapid's Yesh Atid "are not as important as giving me [i.e. within Labor] enough mandates to win," and dodged the question of being able to unite Lapid with the haredi parties to make the 61 seats requiring a coalition - a scenario analysts predict is likely. 

Herzog, surprisingly, is in support of a joint government with the Likud, however - but only if he, not Netanyahu, is prime minister. 

He predicted, meanwhile, that the Joint Arab List will not be part of the government. 

"There is legitimate and respectable leadership there, but they are not ready to be part of the government," he said, adding that they have declared that they would sit in the Opposition regardless of their ranking as the potential third-largest party in the government. 

And while he noted that, yes, a unity government may be on the table, he indicated refusal to sit in Netanyahu's government, if given that choice. 

"I am dealing only in replacing Netanyahu - period," he claimed. 

The Iran issue, peace talks, and Jerusalem - oh my

Regarding Iran, Herzog insisted that he and Netanyahu "do not have differences on the nature of the threat, only the nature of the solution." 

Herzog explained that he would opt for a more diplomatic solution, explaining the threat of Iran as a nuclear threshold state by meeting with world leaders one-on-one. 

He also proposed that the international community make one condition of an agreement recognition of Israel in front of the United Nations, and a commitment not to destroy Israel - despite the fact that Iran has publicly said on multiple occasions that destroying the Jewish state is its prime goal. 

"I suggest to look at the real facts here - Netanyahu also failed Israel's international standing," he said. "Because the Palestinians understand their weakness, they went to The Hague legal effort against IDF soldiers, and that's no joke. Only [Hatnua leader Tzipi] Livni and I will stop it. We will tell the world to stop this tsunami and mobilize the world on our side." 

Herzog also maintained that it was Netanyahu - not he - who put dividing Jerusalem on the agenda, but added that he is "not revealing his hand of cards" in advance on the issue. He added that the first issue to discuss is Israel's borders, and that "Jordan is Israel's security border, and it will be necessary to define the borders and the security strategy before anything else." 

He also said that Israel "must" introduce a construction freeze outside of major settlement blocs as a prerequisite to peace talks - a cause he said he is wholly committed to. 

Herzog ended the interview with an expression of hope. 

"When elections were announced, I was told: 'you won't take off,'" he said. "I have brought the party a lot of success. I'm going to win. We will work hard until election day, we are not arrogant about it, but working hard."