Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Saturday that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would part ways with Bayit Yehudi, his Zionist Union would “gather and reconsider” – insinuating that the door for talks over a unity government is still ajar.
Sources close to Herzog emphasized that he has not been in touch with Netanyahu and that “nothing has changed.” Herzog’s spokesman denied a Channel 10 report that he has asked Zionist Union MKs to “take advantage of the opportunity and enter the government.”
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett declined to respond to Herzog’s statement.
Likud officials said it is unlikely Netanyahu would kick out Bayit Yehudi’s eight lawmakers and allow Bennett to build himself as an alternative to Netanyahu on the Right.
Speaking at a cultural event in Modi’in, Herzog made his comments on the backdrop of a Middle East peace summit in Paris that Herzog said marked the beginning of a series of diplomatic steps against Israel.
“Israel must initiate” in order to make any moves in the peace process, Herzog said. To do so, it “must go in a direction that the far Right does not align with.”
Herzog referred to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s dovish statements regarding a willingness to hold peace talks as “positive,” yet emphasized that words are not enough.
“We’ve already heard words,” Herzog said. “Words have been spoken by Netanyahu and by Liberman, but that is not enough. The world doesn’t buy it. Action is needed,” he said, and the world is ready and willing to offer support and to mediate a process.
Israel needs to initiate a process, rather than be passive, Herzog said, something that is difficult to do since “Netanyahu is captive in a far-right government.” Herzog said that should the prime minister distance himself from the far Right, the center-left Zionist Union would “gather and decide” if perhaps there is room for talks over a unity government.
The opposition leader emphasized that the decision, though, would not be solely his.
“I lead a strong and ideological group of people,” Herzog said, referring to members of the Zionist Union. “If he [Netanyahu] parts ways with them [the Right], we will gather and decide. I am the leader of the group, but not the dictator.”
Still, Herzog remains skeptical.
“I went a far way with Netanyahu [in discussions on joining the government], and he ultimately decided to go with the Right,” he said. “I don’t see a situation in which he parts ways with them.”
Israel Hayom reported over the weekend that the Likud is in touch with Zionist Union legislators in an effort to persuade a third of its 24 MKs to break off from their party, as the law permits.
Herzog’s Labor rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich, said the party, the main constituent of the Zionist Union, can be a “constructive opposition” supporting any genuine diplomatic efforts from outside the coalition. She said if there were real changes, perhaps it could be different, but stressed that the current reality is nowhere near there.
“When I see Netanyahu and Liberman suddenly talking like Peace Now with doves, I am afraid that any moment they will take the doves, cut off their heads and put them in the oven, stuffed with whatever is left of Labor if we, God forbid, join on the basis of those words,” Yacimovich said.
Herzog’s Labor critic, MK Erel Margalit, slammed him and said he should not accept any offer from Netanyahu.
“At this pace, Labor will go from being an alternative to the Likud to an alternative to the [pro-cannabis] Green Leaf Party, both in our size in the polls and in our delusions that we are living in,” he said. “Netanyahu formed the most extreme government in the history of the state and instead of toppling it, we are waiting outside in the rain to enter in return for throwing us some words on peace and regional initiatives.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, chairman of Kulanu, told Channel 2 on Saturday that he thinks the Zionist Union and Bayit Yehudi can and should coexist in the same government.
Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Natan Eshel wrote an opinion article in Haaretz on Friday that the Zionist Union should enter the government in order to “implement the vision of the Left.”
Meanwhile, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar indicated in a speech in Eilat on Saturday that he could end his hiatus from politics.
He said he remained a Likud member and a believer in the party’s path.
“It is only natural for a time-out to end,” he said.
“When the time-out ends, I will have to decide and then ask the public for its trust."