Sissi’s peace speech linked to Israeli coalition talks

Netanyahu, Herzog rumored to plan Cairo trip if Labor joins government; Yisrael Beytenu denies PM offered defense portfolio

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Multiple Israeli media reports on Tuesday linked the Egyptian president’s appeal for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks earlier in the day to the coalition talks between the Zionist Union and Likud, which appeared to be deadlocked.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in a televised address that he saw a “real opportunity” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement that would also lead to warmer ties between Egypt and the Jewish state. His address was lauded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, with the former saying Israel was “ready” for peace.

Brushing off the Egyptian president’s speech, Zionist Union sources on Tuesday night suggested Sissi had coordinated his appeal for Israeli-Palestinian peace with the Israeli government in an effort to sway the Likud and Zionist Union to form a unity coalition. Sissi’s comments “seem coordinated, timed, and aimed at creating a union between Herzog and Netanyahu, in order to create the impression that peace will soon break out here. There is a connection between the things. It’s ridiculous, of course,” the sources said, according to the Ynet news website.

Meanwhile, Channel 10 reported that Netanyahu and Herzog were planning a joint trip to Cairo if the latter joined the coalition, presumably as foreign minister, a position Netanyahu now holds. But the report also said that Netanyahu had retracted his agreement to some of Herzog’s terms for joining.

In an effort to persuade members of the Zionist Union, which comprises his Labor Party and Hatnua, to throw in their lots with Netanyahu’s narrow right-wing government, Herzog this week — in recordings leaked to the press — insisted there was a “rare opportunity” for peace with the Palestinians. But his fellow party members appeared unpersuaded, with MK Shelly Yachimovich — whom Herzog unseated as Labor leader in 2013 — stepping up her criticism of Herzog on Tuesday for “betraying” the party.

In a scathing broadside, Yachimovich said the prime minister’s overtures were like “a bone Netanyahu has thrown, and called Herzog to come crawling back with the bone in his mouth.”

In a statement, she vowed to stymie any move to join the government, and appealed to party members to join her efforts.

“This is a call for a campaign for our image and character, for justice and integrity, ideology, and yes, for our honor,” she wrote. “I intend to do everything I can — publicly, politically, parliamentarily, and judicially, to prevent the disintegration of our party.”

Zionist Camp parliament member Shelly Yachimovich attends in the Knesset, June 08, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASh90)
Zionist Camp parliament member Shelly Yachimovich attends in the Knesset, June 08, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASh90)

“Joining the coalition now, in the current situation, will be no less than a betrayal of the Israelis who voted for the Zionist Union in the elections,” she said of the political alliance formed before the 2015 election.

Yachimovich claimed she has been offered a senior cabinet position if Labor joins the government but noted it would not persuade her.

In response, Herzog said he would not be deterred by Yachimovich’s “threats.” Still, the opposition leader conceded there were “large gaps” with Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Channel 10 on Tuesday reported that Netanyahu last week offered Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman the defense minister portfolio and vowed to back the death penalty for terrorists if his party joined the coalition, an offer Liberman was said to have rejected. Sources close to Liberman dismissed the report as “spin” issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The reported offer to hand over the Defense Ministry to Liberman followed a spat between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon over IDF generals’ criticism of Israeli society.

Netanyahu on Sunday openly called upon Liberman to add his six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party to the razor-thin governing coalition.

“Leave Zoabi and join the government,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting, alluding to Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi, a constant target of derision from Liberman. The prime minister said Liberman had signaled willingness to ally himself with the government.

Yisrael Beytenu is the only right-wing party in the opposition, which is led by the Zionist Union and includes the Joint List. Netanyahu commands a 61-member coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning the departure of any members could compromise his wafer-thin majority. After years of his majority government winning votes in the parliament, the past year has seen some embarrassing losses to the opposition, sometimes caused by just a couple of absent lawmakers.

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