A clause in the scrapped coalition agreement between the Likud party and the Zionist Union stated that the government would “relate positively” to the idea of a regional reconciliation agreement between Israel and several Arab states, as well as to certain elements of the Arab Peace Initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The clause in the document, published Saturday by Channel 2, further stated that Israel would “express a readiness for the first time to enter a dialogue on the matter with the relevant Arab states.” The contents of the file were confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office, Channel 2 said.
Netanyahu’s Likud and Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union had been in talks for weeks on the possible formation of a unity government, talks that fell through last week when it was revealed that the right-wing party Yisrael Beytenu would join the governing coalition, with its leader, Avigdor Liberman, taking the defense ministry portfolio.
Herzog, who is now battling to remain leader of the opposition after the fiasco, has said that the coalition talks fell apart because, with world leaders pushing for a more moderate government that could capitalize on a rare opportunity for peace progress, Netanyahu “ran away.”
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative calls for significant concessions on Israel’s part, among them a full withdrawal from the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and an agreed-upon solution for the Palestinian refugee problem. In return, numerous Arab states would officially recognize the Jewish state as well as establish normalized ties with it.
As reported by Channel 2, the clause in the scrapped Likud-Zionist Union deal stated: “Israel will relate positively to the idea of regional reconciliation and to certain components of the Arab peace initiative, and will express a readiness for the first time to enter a dialogue on this with relevant Arab states.”
Even though the negotiations fell apart, Netanyahu reportedly told Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Thursday that he was committed to advancing regional peace.
“With the launch of the political plan which I labored on along with the prime minister and international parties, Israel would have for the first time reacted very favorably to elements of the Arab Peace Initiative and launched, for the first time, into negotiations with the Arab states on the initiative,” Herzog said at an event Saturday. “This is a move which undoubtedly would have changed the face of the region.”
Herzog also defended his decision to halt coalition talks, saying he had a clear conscience even as the government faced a backlash over the imminent appointment of hawkish right-winger and Yisrael Beytenu head 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.
The Yisrael Beytenu deal was struck after Herzog walked away from his own negotiations with Netanyahu. Herzog later confirmed reports that efforts to bring Zionist Union into the government were driven by international leaders, among them former British premier Tony Blair and US Secretary of State John Kerry, as part of a widespread push to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu on Friday indicated he was still open to the idea of the Zionist Union joining the coalition, but Herzog said Saturday this was out of the question.
Herzog also said that once the coalition deal with Zionist Union was done, Israel was supposed to begin immediate peace talks with the Arab states, and blamed the failure of the effort on the prime minister.
“Netanyahu is a man full of fear who preferred to go with the extreme right,” he said, according to Army Radio.