Herzog quashes unity government rumors; Labor, Likud MKs balk at prospect

Herzog’s quashed the rumors after talk among political insiders that his party would join the coalition in the coming days reached a fever pitch.

Isaac Herzog
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) denied yesterday that he is close to an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on forming a national unity government.
Herzog quashed the rumors after political insiders raised the possibility that his party would join the coalition in the coming days.
The Likud also denied that an agreement had been reached, saying that gaps between the party and the Zionist Union remain too large.
“For the past year, I have been asked to join the government every day, and I’ve always answered: It does not interest me to sit without a hand on the steering wheel. I am not the decorations committee,” Herzog said.
The Zionist Union chairman said he has yet to receive an offer that he would take seriously.
“Everyone likes the term ‘unity,’ but in my eyes, it’s a matter of our joint path,” he added. “If I get the mandate to stop the next wave of funerals and the danger of an international boycott, to bring back the US and Europe as our allies, to open negotiations with states in the region and separate from the Palestinians in a two-state deal, and to stop the continual campaign of terrorism, then I will know my hands are on the wheel.”
Herzog said he would seek to lower the cost of living, changing the agreement between the government and natural gas companies – something Netanyahu would likely oppose – and protect the Supreme Court, among other matters.
The opposition leader also extensively derided the media, calling political commentators cynics and knowit- alls, but he stopped short of criticizing Netanyahu in his statement.
Netanyahu, Herzog and their surrogates continued negotiations to expand the narrow, 61-seat coalition early this week.
Should a broad coalition be formed, Herzog would likely be appointed foreign minister, a portfolio Netanyahu has held for the past year, while the Economy Ministry, another portfolio Netanyahu held in recent months, would likely go to Labor.
Both Netanyahu and Herzog would also likely face opposition in their party ranks if talks result in a broader coalition.
Earlier this week, Herzog updated MK Tzipi Livni (second on the Zionist Union list) about the negotiations.
Party sources say that Livni, who served as justice minister in Netanyahu’s previous government, does not want to enter the coalition, and her Hatnua Party would likely separate from Labor, breaking up the Zionist Union if Herzog joins a national unity government.
Senior Labor members also came out against joining the coalition, including contenders for the party’s leadership.
In her weekly newsletter, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) took credit for stopping Herzog from making the “mistake” of joining the coalition.
“This was an offer that should have been rejected with contempt long ago,” Yacimovich wrote. “Unfortunately, that did not happen.”
Yacimovich said that within Labor, she made her position clear: “It wouldn’t be a unity government. It would be a right-wing government in every way, with Labor creeping in without conditions to get portfolios and positions: one big, echoing nothing that is meant only to annoy the most right-wing party in the coalition, Bayit Yehudi.”
MK Erel Margalit, who has taken an aggressive tone in his campaign for Labor’s chairmanship, wrote a letter directly to Netanyahu, saying he would not join his government.
“During negotiations, do not consider my finger as a vote for the coalition, rather as a certain and trenchant opposition voice,” Margalit wrote.
“This decision is relevant, no matter what decision my party makes, and I am willing to pay the expected price for it. I cannot turn my back to our voters who sent us to continue in the path of [former prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin, and will find themselves continuing on the path of [hard-line Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel] Smotrich.”
MK Yoav Kisch became the first Likud lawmaker to speak out against a national unity government on Thursday.
“A narrow government that is faithful to settlements is better than a broad government lacking in values,” said Kisch, who is co-chairman of the prominent, right-wing Knesset Land of Israel Caucus.
Kisch said he would oppose the Zionist Union’s entry if it changes the coalition guidelines at all or lessens the government’s support for “our right to settle in all parts of our land.”
However, he added, “if the Labor Party chooses to ignore its values to enter the government, that will be their decision.
The Likud will not compromise on settlements.”
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) also voiced opposition to bringing the Zionist Union or Labor into the government, saying that voters chose the Likud because they oppose Herzog.
However, it is unlikely that the coalition is relying on Hazan’s vote on the matter. He is seen by many as a perennial rebel.