Likud, Zionist Union deny secret coalition talks restarted

According to a report published Friday on Channel 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog met in secret in Caesarea.

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)
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)
Sources in the Likud and Zionist Union denied reports over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog met secretly in Caesarea on Thursday and spoke about forming a national unity government.
Channel 2 reported that the two met at Netanyahu’s weekend home in Caesarea, but Herzog’s office said that, although he was in the city, he met with friends and not the prime minister.
“According to a fundamentally absurd report from Channel 2 News, it is now clear that, once again, there are problems in the coalition,” Herzog’s office said.
“Apparently the pressure from the mess that [Transportation] Minister [Israel] Katz caused [in the Likud] has overflowed, false information is being spread again and, yet again, there are those who fall for it.”
A source close to Herzog said that any time there have been problems in the coalition, rumors have been spread from someone in the Likud about changes in the coalition.
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz said he called Herzog, who told him the report was not true, and he decided to believe Herzog.
“I am against holding coalition talks and joining the government,” Peretz said. “It is possible and necessary to replace Netanyahu, that’s our main goal, and we will achieve it.”
But Herzog’s critics in the Zionist Union – MKs Erel Margalit and Stav Shaffir – indicated that they did believe the report. Margalit put out a statement warning Herzog “not to rescue Netanyahu and his failed government.”
Shaffir said Herzog must be replaced immediately.
Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who is close to Herzog, said on Saturday night that he had no idea whether the report was true. Cabel confessed that, in the past, when there were reports about coalition talks he had denied them even though they were true, but that this time he really did not know.
“He [Herzog] hasn’t contacted me and I haven’t bothered to check, because it’s not going to happen,” Cabel said. “It’s not in anyone’s interest anymore.”
Netanyahu and Herzog negotiated on forming a national unity government on and off for a year, but when Herzog could not deliver enough of his faction, Netanyahu instead made a deal with Yisrael Beytenu in May.
Since then, Herzog has been increasingly critical of Netanyahu, saying his late mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, would be ashamed to see the behavior of his self-proclaimed heir.
Herzog also has said he was not upset that he negotiated with Netanyahu, because it exposed that the prime minister is not interested in making the changes to the country that the Zionist Union would have demanded.
Cabel slammed reports that former prime minister Ehud Barak was considering a political comeback and a run for the chairmanship of the Labor Party, which he led twice, from 1997-2001 and from 2007-2011. Barak was in the news last week, because he alleged that Netanyahu damaged the nation’s security.
“Falling for him the first time was all right and falling for him a second time was idiotic, but to be tricked a third time would be horrible,” Cabel said. “He said what he said because it helps his business to be in the headlines.”
Barak expressed willingness to speak to a classified Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee about the ways he thinks Netanyahu is harming national security. But Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) said on Saturday night that it would not happen.
Dichter called Barak to find out what he meant about steps Netanyahu took that exposed Israel to security challenges. Barak declined Dichter’s invitation to meet with him and explain.
“The subcommittee is not a do-as-you-request kind of place, not even for former senior officials,” Dichter said. “Whenever Barak decides to meet with the chairman of the committee and explain why briefing the subcommittee is justified for a cause other than getting himself headlines, he is invited.”
At the same event of the anti-Netanyahu organization Darkenu, in which Barak criticized Netanyahu on Wednesday night, he was asked whether he was interested in a political comeback.”
“In one word: No,” he responded.
The Likud offered a sharp response on Friday to Barak’s words against Netanyahu.
“Barak was the head of the most incompetent government in Israel’s history,” the statement read. “Listed under his name, among other things: the second intifada, abandoning [border policemen] Madhat Yusuf [to his death in Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus in October 2000], the lynching [of two IDF reservists] in Ramallah [that same month], and the hasty withdrawal from Lebanon [in May 2000] that led to Iran and Hezbollah’s takeover of southern Lebanon and the firing of thousands of missiles from there into Israeli cities.”
Lahav Harkov and Ariane Mandell contributed to this report.