Opposition leader Isaac Herzog sought Wednesday night to explain his failure to form a unity government in now-scrapped coalition negotiations, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and launching a furious attack on Zionist Union colleague Shelly Yachimovich, who he claimed has led a campaign against him in recent weeks.
Speaking in his second press conference of the day, after Netanyahu announced he would pursue negotiations with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party and not the Zionist Union, Herzog said he had reached “significant accomplishments” in the talks but that the prime minister had refused to put the agreements on paper.
In an apparent zig-zag from an earlier statements, the Zionist Union leader said he had put an end to the talks on Tuesday night, and not after Netanyahu’s invitation to meet Liberman earlier Wednesday.
“I informed Netanyahu of the end to negotiations last night,” Herzog said.
Herzog told reporters that Netanyahu had passed up “a historic chance” to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process by electing to bring Liberman into the government as defense minister.
Liberman met Wednesday afternoon with Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of bringing his six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party into the coalition, with reports indicating that he had been offered and accepted the defense minister post.
Netanyahu has looked to expand his coalition since forming his 61-seat government over a year ago, saying pushing through any legislation with a wafer-thin majority was difficult, but talks seem to have only ramped up in recent weeks, with Herzog thought to be nearing a deal to join the government.
After listing a series of “achievements” he made in the negotiations, including being offered nine ministerial posts, Herzog launched into a scathing attack on Yachimovich, who he replaced as Labor party leader, saying she was ultimately responsible for Liberman’s appointment as defense minister.
“My predecessor, who begged me for a post in Netanyahu’s government, has led a filthy campaign against me. Ironically, she led the party without much success but she has not learned her lesson,” he said, in an apparent reference to the 15 seats won by Labor, a faction within the Zionist Union, under Yachimovich in the 2013 elections. In 2015 Herzog led the party to 24 seats.
“She will be the stamp with which Liberman will be appointed defense minister, and she is responsible for his appointment,” he said.
Yachimovich has slammed her successor for seeking to join the Netanyahu government, and vowed to prevent him from doing so. Herzog “very much wants to join the coalition,” she wrote on Facebook earlier this week. “It’s our job to tell him he can’t.”
Herzog railled against what he called the “Galon-Yachimovich alliance,” referring to Meretz chair Zahava Galon, and claiming Yachimovich was trying to pull the Zionist Union party to the left.
“We are a center-left party and not an extremist left party. The same people preaching day and night to speak with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are working to prevent testing a real opportunity,” he said.
Yachimovich hit back at Herzog’s accusations later Wednesday, telling Channel 2 News that she had rejected the opportunity to become the highest-ranking female minister in the cabinet, and saying she had yet to decide whether to challenge Herzog as opposition leader.
Herzog vowed Wednesday night to remain as opposition leader and fight the ruling government, despite calls from inside his own party for him to quit.
A senior Zionist Union source told The Times of Israel earlier Wednesday that even without a coalition deal, Herzog was likely to be ousted by the party after widespread opposition to his efforts to join the government.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit called on Facebook for new leadership in the party, joining other party colleagues.
Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir earlier wrote on Facebook that Herzog’s efforts to take Zionist Union into a unity government led by Netanyahu were self-serving and “unforgivable,” while colleague Mickey Rosenthal also demanded Herzog’s resignation, saying that the party leader has lost the trust of the voters.
“The party will not be able to recover if you do not hand over the keys. You have lost the confidence of the electorate,” he wrote on Twitter.
Liberman posting ‘delusional’
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Liberman both came under attack, after it emerged that the Yisrael Beytenu leader was apparently on his way to taking over as Defense Minister, ousting Moshe Ya’alon from the post.
Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Liberman as defense minister is “delusional” and displays “a lack of responsibility toward the defense establishment and the citizens of Israel,” Likud MK and former minister Benny Begin told Channel 2 News.
Labor MK Omer Barlev accused Netanyahu of selling out “the last gatekeeper of the IDF” in replacing Ya’alon with Liberman as defense minister. “Ya’alon was a beacon in the dark, a warrior who never slept on his watch over the IDF, its character or its values,” he said. “For the sake of grabbing one seat, Netanyahu has sold out the last gatekeeper of the IDF.”
The council leaders in communities bordering the Gaza Strip also issued a call for Netanyahu to keep in place security policies implemented during Ya’alon’s years as defense minister.
“The reality of the security situation requires leadership that will safeguard the equilibrium,” Channel 10 quoted them as saying, as rocket sirens blared in the region in an apparent false alarm. “We hope that this policy by Minister Ya’alon will continue.”
Liberman, a firebrand who served as foreign minister before refusing to join the government last year, has made a number of statements in the past seen as war-mongering, including threatening to bomb Egypt and execute Hamas leaders.
MK Dov Khenin from the Joint List party called the posting “a direct continuation of Netanyahu’s right turn over last year.”