Herzog rejects Netanyahu’s latest unity government overture
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Herzog rejects Netanyahu’s latest unity government overture

Under pressure within his own party over past failed talks with the PM, opposition leader says it’s too late now for partnership

In this undated photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
In this undated photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog (C) and Leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A day after fighting off threats to his position as Labor Party chairman, opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Monday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent offer to join the right-wing governing coalition, saying that a unity government was no longer possible.

Netanyahu, who is facing a coalition crisis amid bitter criticism of his policies by the right-wing Jewish Home party, said Sunday that he was still looking to broaden his government. But Herzog, who has been castigated by party colleagues in recent months for having negotiated with Netanyahu about joining forces, on Monday flatly rejected the idea.

“That option has been exhausted,” Herzog said Monday on Israel Radio. “Netanyahu chose to establish a right-wing government, one that promotes fear and hysteria, which is why he’s shooting his mouth off.”

Herzog is scrambling to keep his political career afloat after unity government talks with Netanyahu broke down earlier this year. Rather than bringing Herzog’s 24-strong Zionist Union alliance (comprising Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party) into the government, Netanyahu humiliated Herzog by instead inviting the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party to join.

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on July 31, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor party leader Isaac Herzog attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on July 31, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich on Monday again 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.

She also said she hoped Herzog could indeed be relied upon to reject Netanyahu’s latest overtures, and denied that she herself had been ready to consider joining the government in return for a senior economic portfolio.

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Herzog on Monday defended his earlier efforts to join the Likud-led government.

“I made that move due to an opportunity that presented itself at the time. He [Netanyahu] closed the door and has moved on somewhere else. I will not enter this government,” he said in an interview to Army Radio.

The controversy has sparked relentless calls for his ouster in recent months, which Herzog headed off on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting at Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

In a stormy gathering in Tel Aviv of some 1,500 members of Labor’s central committee, the party’s key decision-making body voted with Herzog by a majority of 750 to 402 to postpone a new leadership vote from this December to next July.

The Tel Aviv convention got off to a bumpy start with boos and cries of “Boujie go home” — Herzog’s nickname — from some 200 protesters in the crowd.

His main challenger, Yachimovich, who called Herzog a “poodle” earlier this year for his efforts to join the Netanyahu-led coalition, told Channel 2 on Sunday that the shouting at the Labor party conference reflected real anger in the party’s rank and file.

Herzog shot back accusing Yachimovich of causing harm to the party by “creating an image of a dysfunctional party.”

Also on Sunday, Netanyahu told Israeli diplomatic correspondents at the Prime Minister’s Office that he remained interested in broadening his ruling coalition.

While “there are no contacts” with opposition parties at the moment, “there is willingness. I am certainly interested in widening the coalition,” he said.

Labor Party members at a party conference held in Tel Aviv on July 31, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Labor Party members at a party conference held in Tel Aviv on July 31, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

To that end, Netanyahu said he is keeping the foreign affairs portfolio for himself as a bargaining chip in the event of coalition negotiations with a large opposition party.

On Monday, the Jewish Home party, a key coalition member, harshly criticized Netanyahu for seeking to broaden his coalition with opposition parties and castigated many of his 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.

“Bringing Boujie [Herzog] in is like shooting inside an armored personnel carrier,” the party statement said. “Before elections [Netanyahu] always sucks up to the right-wing and religious voters, and afterwards he casts them away with derision.”

“The days of [us being] a punching bag are over,” the statement said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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