Labor Party chief says he’ll be next prime minister

Should elections be called, Herzog confident he’ll be able to assemble centrist coalition; urges Lapid, Livni to join forces with him

Labor leader Isaac Herzog in a Channel 10 interview, November 29, 2014 (Channel 10 screenshot)
Labor leader Isaac Herzog in a Channel 10 interview, November 29, 2014 (Channel 10 screenshot)

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog struck a confident tone Saturday, saying that he’ll be Israel’s next prime minister and that he’ll be able to form the next government if Benjamin Netanyahu decides to initiate early elections.

The opposition chief, whose Labor Party holds 15 seats in the Knesset, said it’s very likely that early elections will be held. He thus added his voice to the growing list of politicians who have openly discussed the possibility of dissolving the current government and sending the country to the polls less than two years since the last elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to decide on whether to call for early elections by Monday amid coalition tensions over a proposed “Jewish state” bill.

“I think that today it’s clear that I present an alternative to Netanyahu,” Herzog said in a Channel 10 interview. “I believe that I will assemble the next government. With the appropriate cooperation of a centrist bloc, I can come to the president and build the next government.”

Earlier on Saturday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said that he was not afraid to go to early elections.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua party, also said earlier this week that she was prepared to stand for her principles against the “Jewish state” bill, even if it means dissolving the government and taking the country to elections.

Herzog on Saturday urged Lapid and Livni to “join forces” with him to present an alternative to Netanyahu. The Labor leader did not rule out assembling an alternative coalition without dissolving parliament, but said he thought this idea unrealistic.

The controversial bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Lapid, Livni, as well as opposition lawmakers, President Reuven Rivlin, and his predecessor Shimon Peres.

Critics say the law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. A stormy cabinet meeting on the bill at the beginning of the week saw Livni accuse Netanyahu of backing the legislation in order to try and pry apart the coalition so that he can call elections.

Netanyahu has vowed to push the measure through, saying that it would guarantee equal rights for the country’s citizens and put Israel’s democratic and Jewish characters on equal footing.

The PM has presented 14 “principles” — a two-page articulation of the guiding principles for the as-yet unsubmitted government version of the nation-state bill — as a softened version to the more “right-wing” versions submitted by MKs Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Robert Ilatov and Ayelet Shaked.

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