Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog ruled out the possibility of forming a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu, echoing the prime minister’s words by saying the differences between the two were too profound for them to work together.
“Netanyahu said there’s a huge chasm between us. He said during the elections that we are anti-Zionists, and he said during the election that I will basically sell the country to the Arabs,” Herzog said while speaking with the New York Times in an interview published on Friday. “I haven’t heard anything to the contrary. I’m not intending to be the troubleshooter or the fixer or the bleaching element in his government.”
Herzog, whose Zionist Union won 24 seats in the March 17 elections, said he was dedicated to leading a “fighting opposition” against a Likud-led government likely to include far-right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
“We will try to expose the weakness of this coalition,” he said. “My goal will always be to bring hope, to show that there is a sincere, reasonable and sensible voice in the arena.”
Coming off a worse-than-predicted loss in this month’s heated Knesset elections, the Zionist Union leader claimed not to be devastated by the defeat, instead focusing on the three seats gained by the center-left made from the previous election.
“I’m pleased with the result, and I’m not pleased with the outcome,” Herzog asserted.
“We’re already moving on,” he added. “People stop us in the street all the time, stop me and say thank you for giving us hope and make sure Netanyahu doesn’t screw us up,” he added.
Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the elections, and he was charged on Wednesday by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next coalition.
Despite being criticized for lacking charisma and leading a less-than-inspiring campaign, analysts suggested the left lost the election for failing to sell the Israeli public on a better alternative in a climate dominated by high living costs, a crippled peace process and an ever-growing nuclear threat from Iran.
“Of course they made mistakes, but not terrible mistakes, not tragic mistakes. It’s much deeper than that,” Yossi Sarid, a former left-wing MK who served in key ministerial posts during his 22-year Knesset career, told the paper.
Herzog acknowledged his campaign’s failures, saying he would do more to reach out to the working-class and children of immigrants, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa. The Zionist Union leader also spoke of deepening an alliance with Arab MKs, insisting he would try to bring them into the mainstream of Israeli politics.
Distancing himself from the left, Herzog insisted his party was centrist and capable of ruling over an increasingly fragmented electorate that has shifted to the right since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s.
“I have huge respect for the left — the left is bold, the left is very focused and is very ideological — but most of the rank and file of the Israeli public wants something more pragmatic,” he said. “I moved my party to the center and I will continue forcefully to stage my party to the center. The only way to win in Israel is by being in the center.”