Opposition head calls on Livni, Lapid to quit coalition

Herzog says current gov’t unwilling to negotiate peace, Abbas promised him he’d disarm Hamas, ‘foolish’ unity move need not mean end of talks

Itamar Sharon is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (Photo credit: Flash 90)
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (Photo credit: Flash 90)

Opposition leader and Labor party head Isaac Herzog on Saturday called on key coalition partners Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid to abandon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the likely event that the peace process cannot be revived, and to form a coalition with Labor that would make serious advances towards peace.

Speaking on Channel 2’s Meet the Press, Herzog criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the faltering US-mediated negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, calling the conduct of the talks “another resounding failure of the Netanyahu government.”

He also said Israel should negotiate with a new Palestinian government, even if backed by Hamas, so long as it met the Middle East Quartet’s conditions — recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements and renouncing terrorism.

He said he had spoken to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas since the Fatah-Hamas unity accord was signed on Wednesday, and that Abbas assured him the aim was to ensure a single leadership authorized to use arms under his control, and that he would “remove the weaponry” in Gaza from Hamas control. If this was not agreed, the unity process would not be completed.

Justice Minister Livni, who heads the Hatnua faction and who is the chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians, and Finance Minister Lapid, who is the leader of the Yesh Atid faction – the second largest in the Knesset – are both seen as center-left leaning politicians. Both have called peace negotiations a central component of their coalition membership.

At present, Herzog stated, Livni and Lapid were enabling the nationalist Jewish Home party, led by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, to remain in power. If negotiations were truly dead, Herzog said, there would soon come a time when “Livni…will not be able to sit and justify all of Naftali Bennett’s statements.”

“They have no choice at the end of the day but to leave the government and embark on an alternative diplomatic process,” he added.

Herzog said that Abbas had been wrong to authorize what he called the “unnecessary and foolish” reconciliation deal by his Fatah faction with terrorist organization Hamas just as attempts to renew negotiations between the sides were at a critical stage. Still, Herzog maintained that Israel’s immediate suspension of peace negotiations in response was a bad move.

Netanyahu, Herzog said, had not answered the question of what Israel wants to achieve in the negotiation process, and had failed to formulate a clear and concise position on the two-state solution.

“The prime minister needs to come out and say where we are headed,” Herzog said. “What will happen after another unilateral step like [the suspension of talks], after another punishment for the Palestinian Authority? Will it fall part? Will this help Israeli security? I ask Benjamin Netanyahu, are the steps you’ve taken helping Israel’s security?”

“Where is the Israeli right leading the state of Israel?” Herzog asked.

The Labor leader said that while a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas had the potential to derail peace negotiations, it was important to avoid “bombastic statements and unilateral steps.”

“Wait and see how things develop,” he urged Netanyahu, noting that many previous Palestinian attempts at reconciliation had failed. And even if a Palestinian unity government were formed, as envisaged within five weeks under the Palestinian reconciliation deal, as long as it recognized Israel and adhered to the conditions stipulated by the so-called Middle East Quartet – as Abbas has stated it would — Israel should have no issue with continued negotiations, Herzog said.

Citing Israel’s declining international standing and its growing image as an unwilling peace partner, Herzog insisted it was necessary to formulate “a full and detailed” Israeli peace offer, which would provide it with international support and place the ball in the Palestinian court.

However, he said, “listening to the joyous cries…of the Israeli far right” in recent days in response to the Palestinian unity move and Israel’s subsequent suspension of talks had proven that Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners were not at all interested in such a peace.

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