Zionist Union said in talks to join Netanyahu coalition

Rivlin mediating between PM, Herzog, report says; Herzog denies rumors, but sources in his party and Likud confirm them

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

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)

President Reuven Rivlin has been mediating between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog in a bid to form a unity government, the Likud and Zionist Union parties were quoted by Haaretz as saying on Thursday.

Herzog dismissed the reports as “utter nonsense,” while a Zionist Union source maintained that the negotiations brokered by Rivlin were general in nature and that Netanyahu was spreading rumors of a unity government for political gain.

In the past few weeks, the president has met separately with Netanyahu and Herzog, sources said. One Likud source told Haaretz that the Iranian nuclear deal created a renewed urgency for a unity government.

“The political system is ripe for unity, primarily over the developments with Iran,” the source said. “Even Herzog knows that the world views a unity government differently. There have been overtures for a few weeks already, and our assessment is that there will be no significant opposition in the Zionist Union to joining the coalition.”

The Likud source added that it was “unclear whether the move will produce results next week, and uncertain whether any results would be reached at all, but this is the general direction.”

The Likud source said that if Herzog would join the government, Netanyahu would give the Zionist Union the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry. The Haaretz report maintained that Herzog had initially refused to join if the Jewish Home party remained a coalition partner, but later dropped that demand.

Herzog on Wednesday rejected rumors of an impending unity government as “utter nonsense.” Meanwhile, a senior Zionist Union source maintained that the talks were simply procedural, and that there was “nothing to them.”

“The leaks about it are likely designed to help Netanyahu pressure Liberman and push him to join the coalition, or to quell the coalition demands of his coalition partners,” the source said. “He wants to create the impression that he has an alternative to an existing coalition.”

However, one Zionist Union MK told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that Herzog was “stitching together [a] unity [government].”

“You hear this also from Likud ministers who are suddenly speaking about this option seriously,” the unnamed MK said.

There is mounting opposition to the bid within the Zionist Union, primarily from senior Knesset members Shelly Yachimovich and Tzipi Livni, Yedioth reported.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-on on Wednesday said that she “knows that the Zionist Union is on its way to the government.”

“The Iranian issue is being used as a hook. Herzog will help the government explain the agreement’s flaws,” she told Army Radio.

While Herzog labeled Gal-on’s statements “simply ridiculous,” a Likud source said the Meretz leader was “not wrong” but that reaching an agreement on a unity government would take longer than Gal-on had predicted.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu urged a unified political front against the Iranian nuclear deal.

“On existential issues there is no coalition and no opposition,” he told the Knesset. “We need a united front to ensure our survival and future.”

Herzog on Wednesday called the deal “bad” and “dangerous” and said that he would support the Israeli efforts to thwart it from the opposition.

“Despite the disagreements and the behavior and decisions of the prime minister, which he must account for, we must deal with the results of the agreement as a common national and security challenge. This can be done from the opposition,” he said.

Yachimovich, one of the senior Zionist Union MKs opposed to a unity government, indicated Thursday that her position with regard to joining Netanyahu’s government has not changed.

Yachimovich, a former leader of the party, told Army Radio that she “viewed his [Herzog’s] total support of Netanyahu critically.” Herzog’s comments about the Iran deal are part of his “clear political incentive” and strategy throughout the elections earlier in 2015 to brand the party as “more nationalistic… than people think we are,” she said.

Yachimovich also criticized Netanyahu, saying that if the deal was indeed so bad, it was the prime minister who was responsible. It is a “strategic mistake” to fight the US on the agreement, she said.

MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), speaking to Army Radio, also denied the rumors of a unity deal.

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