Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled Friday that despite bypassing the party in favor of a pact with Yisrael Beytenu, he would be pleased to see Zionist Union join the government.
“The government is looking for peace. There are diplomatic opportunities because of certain regional developments that I personally work all the time to attain,” said Netanyahu, in an apparent effort to preempt criticism over what has been branded the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
“This is why I made a great effort to have Zionist Union join the government. And therefore I leave the door open, in the most serious manner, for such a move, which can only do good for the State of Israel,” he said at the end of a statement expressing regret at Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s resignation, triggered by Netanyahu’s decision to replace him with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog held weeks of intense coalition talks with Netanyahu, which ended as the prime minister began talks with Liberman to bring his party into the coalition.
Netanyahu, who is heading a narrow 61-MK coalition, denied the portfolio reshuffle that triggered Ya’alon’s departure was down to a crisis of confidence between the two, but said it stemmed, rather, from the need to expand the government “in order to bring stability to the State of Israel in light of the great challenges it faces.”
With Yisrael Beytenu onside, Netanyahu will have 66 MKs in his coalition. Liberman had originally brought six Knesset seats to the table, but MK Orly Levy-Abekasis resigned from the party over the coalition deal, citing its failure to address social issues that have long been a key platform of Yisrael Beytenu.
Herzog, meanwhile, criticized Netanyahu sharply in a Facebook post on Friday, calling him the “secretary” for the hawkish members of his party.
“Three days ago it was we who drew a red line under the attempt to close the deal by signing and we said: No more!” Herzog wrote on Facebook, referring to his coalition talks with Netanyahu. “Yesterday Orly Levy, and today Ya’alon — his colleague in the IDF special ops, in the party and in the government — told him: No more!” he wrote.
“The State of Israel needs a government led by responsible people, cool-headed and solicitous, while Netanyahu has now turned himself into the government secretary of the far right-wing of Avigdor Naftali Smotrich,” Herzog wrote, amalgamating the names of Liberman, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich.
Herzog praised both Ya’alon and Levy-Abekasis for showing “national responsibility” and called on the two to join Zionist Union, writing that he had founded the party “alongside Tzipi Livni, who was senior in Likud and experienced the same things Ya’alon talked about.”