A handful of prominent Zionist Union lawmakers on Sunday skipped a faction meeting to protest party leader Isaac Herzog’s ultimately abortive attempts to reach a deal with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enter his coalition government.
MKs Shelly Yachimovich, Erel Margalit, Micky Rosenthal, Stav Shaffir, Yossi Yonah and Omer Bar-Lev were among those absent at the faction meeting — the first since the negotiations with Netanyahu crumbled last week, a failure that Herzog blamed on “far-left extremists” within his party.
“I’ve lost faith in the leader of my party and his ability to lead the opposition against Netanyahu (and he, in turn, announced that I represent the extreme left and there is no room for people like me in the party),” wrote Rosenthal on Facebook.
“It’s not that Netanyahu tricked Herzog. Herzog tricked himself — Netanyahu didn’t for one minute mean what he [Herzog] is now boasting he almost got,” added Rosenthal.
Yachimovich, one of the strongest critics of Herzog’s coalition efforts, told the Walla news site on Sunday that she “intended to come to the faction meeting, but I understood that instead of taking responsibility and calm the situation, Herzog continues to lash out at his party members in a divisive way, inciting [against them] with the same rhetoric as Netanyahu.”
“If the extreme left was against joining the coalition, [what about] Livni, Shaffir and Cabel — is everyone an extreme leftist apart from Herzog?” she later told Army Radio.
Also boycotting the faction meeting was Shaffir, who has called on Herzog to resign, and who on Sunday also maintained her party leader had been duped by Netanyahu.
“‘The incredible achievements’ that he [Netanyahu] promised Herzog — to be responsible for negotiations [with the Palestinians] and to freeze the settlement construction — are exactly those same empty promises that he gave his coalition members and the international community in the past,” she said.
“You are welcome to pick up the phone to Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, John Kerry and Barack Obama and ask them how this experiment ended. Neither the Bar Ilan speech nor coalition agreements were worth the paper they were written on, “maintained Shaffir, referring to Netanyahu’s 2009 speech affirming his commitment to the two-state solution. “I’m really having a hard time understanding how, after the past seven years, someone can still buy this trick.”
Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar, in Budapest for a conference, also missed the meeting.
Herzog on Saturday defended his decision to halt coalition talks with Netanyahu, saying he had a clear conscience even as the government faced a backlash over the imminent appointment of hawkish right-winger Avigdor Liberman as defense minister.
“We must take painful decisions, even if they are unpopular. I wasn’t held hostage and I did not crawl. If I had crawled, I would have been inside [the coalition] for a long time already,” Herzog told a cultural event in Kfar Saba, the Walla website reported. “I am at peace with my conscience. It is the duty of a leader to try.”
Liberman reached a still-unfinalized deal with Netanyahu on Wednesday to take his five-seat Yisrael Beytenu party into the coalition, an agreement that saw the prime minister oust former IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon from the Defense Ministry to make way for Liberman. Ya’alon quit political life on Friday morning, citing his lack of trust in Netanyahu and asserting that Israel under the prime minister was descending into extremism.
Herzog on Wednesday walked away from negotiations as Netanyahu met with Liberman, claiming that the prime minister had refused to put the agreements they reached in writing. Herzog later confirmed reports that efforts to bring Zionist Union into the government were driven by international leaders.
Netanyahu on Friday, and again on Sunday, indicated he was still open to the idea of Zionist Union joining the coalition, but Herzog said Saturday this was out of the question.