Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, Co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, are pictured together as campaign billboards rotate in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) “slammed the door” on a national-unity government Monday, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reopened it immediately in the opening meeting of the Knesset’s summer session.
In a further appeal for Zionist Union to join the coalition, Netanyahu said in the Knesset: “I did not close the door; it’s open.
“There is an opportunity to unite the nation, to promote national reconciliation and promote a regional agreement,” the prime minister stated. “I call on you and your friends not to miss the opportunity, and to move to a regional effort to promote these goals.”
Netanyahu responded to Herzog, who in a speech in honor of Herzl Day in the Knesset said the prime minister “slammed the door [and] chose to abandon the good of the country in favor of narrow political interests.”
Herzog compared himself to Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl, saying they both were called delusional and other disparaging names while pursuing unpopular goals and acting as leaders.
The opposition leader said he decided to start talks to join the coalition as a way to promote peace talks after attending the funeral of Dafna Meir, who was killed in front of her children in a terrorist attack in January.
“I chose to endanger myself politically when I reached the conclusion that we cannot continue this way and the situation must change,” he said. “I opened the door to changing our present and future, I opened the door for the Arab leaders, European leaders and the US, which are hoping for responsible Israeli leadership.
I know I disappointed many of my supporters and friends, but I decided anyway so as not to let an opportunity pass to give Israel a different, more moderate government.”
Instead, Herzog said Netanyahu let himself be “captive to a dangerous and extremist political group that will lead us to a national disaster,” referring to Yisrael Beytenu, and its leader, Avigdor Liberman.
Herzog tried all day to persuade the public that he would not join the government, beginning with a message to Netanyahu on Twitter.
“I want to say in public what I told you face to face,” Herzog tweeted.
“The door is closed. This chapter is over. You are captive in the hands of the worst extremists, and we will struggle against you and them.”
At a Zionist Union faction meeting at the Knesset Monday afternoon, he pleaded with his MKs to forget about the weeks of coalition talks he conducted with Netanyahu.
Unlike a special meeting of the faction Sunday that was boycotted by five MKs, all 24 Zionist Union Knesset members were present Monday.
“We have overcome a tough time, but it is behind us,” Herzog said.
“Please return to full cooperation in our fight against the covenant of extremists that threatens the future of the country. We are all humans and we make mistakes. I stand behind what I’ve done and take responsibility.”
MK Tzipi Livni said that when she formed the Zionist Union with Herzog, it gave people hope and that hope should not be lost by its MKs spending too much time arguing among themselves.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, whose party has gained support at the Zionist Union’s expense, said Netanyahu offered him the same deal he offered Herzog, but that he gave the prime minister a clear no.
“The central problem of the state is its politics, which are corrupt and ugly,” he said. “We need to choose between a strong Israel and weakening politics. Politicians here curse each other publicly and then laugh behind closed doors about how much they tricked people. If I could, I wish I could filed a no-confidence motion in the opposition, not just in the government.”