Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog’s softened stance to the prospect of entering the coalition met with push-back from Labor MKs on Saturday, with one warning that the Labor party — which along with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party makes up the Union — risked irrelevance if it continued to seek to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, rather than to replace it.
Despite being spurned by Netanyahu for Avigdor Liberman and his rightist Yisrael Beytenu party in coalition talks last month, Herzog said Saturday that there was still a chance his center-left opposition party would join the government if Jewish Home were pushed out.
“At this rate the Labor party will change from an alternative to Likud to an alternative to Aleh Yarok [‘Green Leaf’ — a tiny party that campaigns for legalization of marijuana],” said Labor MK Erel Margalit, “both in size and in the sense of the fantasy we’re living in.
“Netanyahu has established the most extreme government in the history of the nation and instead of bringing him down, we’re waiting outside in the rain for him to let us in, in return for his throwing around some words about peace and regional initiatives,” Margalit lamented.
Labor MK Mickey Rosenthal also expressed extreme skepticism at the prospect of Netanyahu seriously advancing any peace initiative.
“The prime minister has no intention of ceding anything,” he wrote on Facebook. “Netanyahu is not capable of a significant historic act. He only wants to bring the Zionist Union into the government to serve as a fig leaf, in anticipation of the diplomatic tsunami Israel faces.”
Rosenthal warned that Netanyahu’s peace overtures “create expectations in the Arab world, expectations that will beget disappointments that will sadly lead to crises and escalations.”
MK Shelly Yachimovich, Labor’s number two, warned that the “cooing of peace doves” accompanying recent statements by Netanyahu and Liberman would soon be replaced with visions of them “decapitating those birds and baking them in the oven, stuffed with whatever remains of the Labor party if, heaven forbid, it joins them.”
She added that the party would support a peace push should Netanyahu truly show willingness to pursue such an initiative. “If Netanyahu and Liberman will lead to a real [peace] process, our finger will be there [for the requisite Knesset votes]; we will be a constructive opposition,” Yachimovich said.
But she stressed that this was “far from the state of things at the moment.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Zionist Union to join the coalition. Coalition talks between Likud and Zionist Union collapsed in mid-May, with each side blaming their failure on the other, as Netanyahu cemented a coalition deal with Liberman to have his five-seat party join the government. Liberman was sworn in as defense minister last week.
“If he throws the Jewish Home [party] out of the coalition then we’ll convene as a party and consider the matter,” Herzog said at an event in the central city of Modi’in, referring to the religious-nationalist right-wing party that emphatically opposes Palestinian statehood.
Education Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday vowed to topple the Likud-led government if necessary in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“Netanyahu chose to go with the extremists, I don’t see a scenario that he’ll separate from them,” Herzog said. “Netanyahu is held captive today by a radical right-wing government,” he went on. “I went with Netanyahu for a long stretch but in the end he decided that he’s going to the far right.”
The opposition leader said Netanyahu and Liberman’s recent talk about pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was positive, “but not enough.”
On Monday, Netanyahu set a precedent – at least a rhetorical one – by partially endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative that Israel has long opposed as one-sided, offering to negotiate with the Arab world regarding the parameters of the plan, which promises Israel full diplomatic ties with 57 Arab and Muslim states in return for cementing a peace accord with the Palestinians. On Thursday night, Netanyahu also reportedly told US Secretary of State John Kerry he was saying “yes” to regional efforts to advance the peace process.
“The Arabs don’t believe Liberman and Netanyahu. They want to see action,” Herzog said.
Earlier in the week Netanyahu and Liberman vowed to pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians, to which Bennett replied that he would “stand as a fortified wall against historic mistakes.”
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