Netanyahu and Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)
Chairman of the Zionist Union party and lead opposition figure in the Knesset MK Isaac Herzog revealed on Saturday that both he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a number of discussions over the past several months concerning the so called "Arab Peace Initiative," expressing his desire to move on favorable aspects of the plan that "would have undoubtedly changed the face of the region."
During a cultural event held in Kfar Saba, Herzog said that he and the premier had "labored" over plans concerning a regional peace proposal initiated by Saudi Arabia, saying the two considered taking dramatic new steps in order to normalize relations with its traditionally hostile neighbors.
"With the launching of a proposed regional peace process, myself, the prime minister and international officials labored over terms" which would have laid out "very favorable conditions towards Israel," Herzog said during the event.
"The [initiative] would have led to opening up negotiations with the Arab world and undoubtedly changed the face of the region," he added.
The Arab Peace Plan is a Saudi-led proposal constituted in 2002 which calls for a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines with a just settlement for Palestinian refugees. In exchange, the Arab world would offer Israel normalized relations.
According to a Channel 10 report Friday evening, moderate Sunni Arab governments in the region have communicated to Netanyahu their willingness to engage in negotiations with Israel over possible changes to the Saudi peace initiative so that it may serve as the agreed-upon basis of renewed talks with the Palestinians.
The plan would have possibly been enacted on condition that Herzog and his Zionist Union faction join the Netanyahu led coalition.
But Thursday saw a dramatic shakeup within the political echelon, with the admission of right-wing nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu into the government. As per a coalition agreement, Yisrael Beitenu party chairmen Avigdor Liberman will take over the Defense Ministry following the abrupt resignation of former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon on Friday.
It now remains to be seen how these events will effect the Arab peace proposal and if Netanyahu will continue without Herzog.
Negotiations between Herzog and Netanyahu
have ruffled feathers among Zionist Union MKs, who object to joining forces with the premier. As a result, grumbling about a change in leadership have started to emerge from within the party.
Earlier this week, Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir called on Herzog to resign, stating Netanyahu had "used Herzog in order to bring Liberman into the government" in a post on social media
In response, Herzog said he had no intention of "going home" and pointed his finger at a number of MKs within his faction that were provoking dissent
"I have no intention of giving pleasure to those who call for my resignation, like [Zionist Union MK] Shelly Yacimovich..
.and others," Herzog said.
Yacimovitch is the former head of the Labor party and Herzog's biggest political rival inside the Zionist Union.
Herzog said before talks broke down that the negotiations had been worthwhile and led to number of key agreements between himself and the prime minister, including key ministerial positions and policy demands.
"I did not crawl or subjugate myself, if I had I would have joined the coalition long ago," Herzog noted. "I received the Defense portfolio and the Foreign Ministry portfolio, plus a construction freeze."
"They say not to talk with Netanyahu because he is unreliable," Herzog continued. "But there is a group they are willing to talk to and that's Hamas leadership. But they will not talk with Israeli prime minister, and I disagree with that. "
Herzog concluded by adding: 'We are a large centrist-left party with correct ideas that need to be expanded so we can have others join."
Officials in Arab capitals are now awaiting Netanyahu's response to their offer of substantive discussions on the Saudi initiative so as to make it more palatable for Israel, according to Channel 10.