Zionist Union chairman and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, under fire for a botched attempt to take his party into the right-wing coalition, on Thursday attributed his efforts to “messages from the regional leadership and world leaders” urging a unity government to advance a peace deal.
In a heated interview on Channel 2 television, Herzog claimed that world leaders told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they didn’t trust him on matters of Israeli-Palestinian peace — apparently confirming media reports that ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were behind the effort to reconcile Netanyahu’s Likud and his own Zionist Union, thereby creating a more palatable climate for peace efforts.
“What do you think, that Sissi works for me?” said Herzog, referring to the timing of a Tuesday speech by the Egyptian president urging a peace push, while Herzog and Netanyahu held marathon coalition talks.
“I believed that there was a unique moment, in which a group of moderate Arab leaders were willing to implement a dramatic move,” he said.
There could have been an “historic” change in the region, Herzog maintained, but Netanyahu “ran away” due to pressure from his Likud party.
He also told Channel 10 in an interview Thursday that most of the details of the deal to join Netanyahu’s coalition were already inked, but “at the last moment, when it was clear to me that the diplomatic terms need to be included in the agreement because there was no change to the [government’s] guidelines, then Netanyahu preferred to balk and go with [Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor] Liberman.”
“He decided it was hard for him,” Herzog said on Channel 2, conceding that it was possible that Netanyahu “played me.” He also reiterated an earlier claim that “far-left extremists” thwarted the coalition agreement — a likely reference to his party member and predecessor as Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich. Zionist Union is made up of two parties — Labor, which Herzog chairs and is the senior partner, and Tzipi Livni’s smaller Hatnua party.
Herzog called upon Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose position may be given to Liberman as part of the coalition deal, and Yisrael Beytenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis to join the Zionist Union.
While MKs from the Zionist Union demanded Herzog’s head Wednesday, Labor lawmaker Itzik Shmuli told Channel 10 on Thursday that nearly all Labor MKs gave Herzog the green light for coalition talks with Netanyahu.
“Let’s remember… nearly all the party members were vocal in saying they would give Herzog their explicit consent to explore Netanyahu’s offer,” Shmuli said, when asked if Herzog could be trusted in light of his willingness to enter the coalition.
Herzog sought Wednesday night to explain his failure to form a unity government, blaming Netanyahu and launching a furious attack on Yachimovich, whom he said had led a campaign against him in recent weeks.
In an apparent zig-zag from an earlier statements, the Zionist Union leader said he had put an end to the talks on Tuesday night, and not after Netanyahu’s invitation to meet Liberman earlier Wednesday.
“I informed Netanyahu of the end to negotiations last night,” Herzog said.