Evidently unimpressed by his denials, Knesset members from Isaac Herzog’s opposition Labor Party castigated him on Saturday for reportedly entering new talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about forming a unity government.
Erel Margalit, a rival of Herzog’s for the party leadership, said that with the Netanyahu government “failing in all areas” and with Netanyahu being probed for alleged financial mis-dealings, it was obvious that Labor should be working to replace not save the coalition.
Fellow Labor MK Stav Shaffir said that if Herzog had lost faith in the capacity of the party to replace the right-wing government, he should “go home.”
Both MKs said they were certain they could prevent the reported new negotiations from leading to an actual coalition deal.
Aides to both Herzog and Netanyahu have denied that any such talks are taking place. But Israel’s Channel 2 news, which broke the story on Friday, said Saturday that it had received “further confirmation” of the negotiations. It also said that, in contrast to previous, aborted talks in the spring, Herzog this time “hasn’t even told those in his inner circle” about his new contacts with Netanyahu.
Defeated in last year’s elections, Labor under Herzog is plummeting in the polls, but he recently staved off an effort to formally challenge his leadership for another year.
Channel 2 reported on Friday that Netanyahu and Herzog met on Thursday in Caesarea to discuss a possible unity coalition, and that they may also have held a meeting earlier in the week.
The report was denied by aides to Netanyahu, by his Likud party and by Herzog’s opposition Zionist Union. Channel 2, however, insisted that its report was accurate, and recalled that when the two men held full-scale negotiations on a coalition partnership in the spring, including the specifics of how ministerial posts would be allocated, they also firmly denied that any such talks were taking place.
Netanyahu has consistently said that he seeks to expand his coalition, but in May he aborted negotiations with Herzog and instead cut a deal under which Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party joined the government and Liberman was appointed minister of defense.
Three weeks ago Netanyahu told reporters he was holding on to the Foreign Ministry portfolio precisely to be able to offer it to a potential new coalition partner. “Overall, the government works fine, though I am not hiding the fact that I am interested in broadening it,” he said on July 31. While “there are no contacts” with opposition parties, he said that day, “there is willingness. I am certainly interested in widening the coalition… There are many challenges and opportunities, including diplomatic ones,” he added.
Herzog retorted the next day: “That option has been exhausted.”
Netanyahu may believe the inclusion of the center-left Zionist Union might help deflect international pressure on Israel as regards peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Channel 2 said Friday that while Netanyahu acknowledged being in Caesarea on vacation, he was adamant that he did not meet with Herzog. Herzog was also said to have acknowledged being in the northern coastal town, but coincidentally so. The opposition party called the reports of new meetings “totally unfounded,” and said they showed the Netanyahu coalition to be in chaos.
Yoav Galant, housing minister from the coalition’s Kulanu faction, said he knew nothing about the veracity or otherwise of the report, but that “I’d be the first to welcome” a unity government.
Herzog has been castigated by party colleagues in recent months for having negotiated with Netanyahu about joining forces. Rather than bringing Herzog’s 24-strong Zionist Union alliance (comprising Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party) into the government in May, Netanyahu humiliated Herzog by instead inviting in the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu.
Former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich earlier this month slammed Herzog’s leadership, and said he was failing to position Labor as an effective opposition. She alleged he had been ready to join the Netanyahu coalition without an explicit commitment from the prime minister to work toward a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.
The Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, a key coalition member, has repeatedly criticized Netanyahu for seeking to broaden his coalition with opposition parties, and earlier this month criticized many of the prime minister’s policies over the years, including his current handling of plans to reform the Israel Broadcasting Authority, his past release of Palestinian terrorists, his withdrawal from most of the West Bank city of Hebron, his previous willingness to freeze settlement expansion, and his support in principle for a Palestinian state.