Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog is taking action to have his party join the coalition in the coming days, despite his lack of success in achieving significant changes in the coalition guidelines and without the ouster of the rightist Habayit Hayehudi party – both of which he had previously demanded.
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Herzog would receive the post of foreign minister in the government and be responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sources in Labor, the larger of the two parties comprising the Zionist Union, said there have been no changes in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer over the last few days regarding either the coalition guidelines or the offered portfolios.
Nevertheless, one said, “Herzog wants this move utterly and he’s desperate; he’s examining how many MKs from his party will ultimately agree to join him.”
A senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party said Likud would be satisfied with getting 10 to 15 of Zionist Union’s 24 Knesset members.
“We’d be happy if Herzog managed to persuade more MKs, but we have no expectations,” he said. “From our standpoint, even 10 new supporters would significantly strengthen the coalition, both in terms of image and primarily in terms of the number of coalition votes.”
Herzog’s associates stressed yesterday that no agreement has been reached. “There aren’t even negotiations,” said one. “There is sporadic contact, but no breakthrough.”
Herzog, he added, will join the government “only if it becomes clear that the country’s situation would be better” if he did.
Most of the MKs Herzog has met with over the past few days have said they oppose joining on the current terms. Shelly Yacimovich, a former Labor Party leader, and Tzipi Livni, who heads the Zionist Union’s Hatnuah faction, both said they wouldn’t join the government. Livni said she would withdraw her party from the Zionist Union if Herzog did so.
Under the pre-election agreement between Livni and Herzog, any decision to join the coalition is supposed to be approved by both of them.
On Tuesday, Livni sent a letter to her supporters in which she reiterated her opposition to joining the government. “We have a historic task at this time to fight for Israel’s values against the racism and hatred that are rearing their heads in the absence of leadership,” she wrote. “We must now unite in a large camp that will restore hope to Israel.”
Herzog’s weeks of agonizing over whether to join the government have badly undermined his party colleagues’ faith in him. “He’s a dead horse,” one said on Tuesday. “This latest move has turned him into a leader without a party. He has no idea what fire he’ll come under at the next faction meeting.”
MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor), a vocal opponent of joining the government, assailed Herzog in similar terms on his Facebook page. “Herzog’s holding a fire sale,” he wrote. “He’s willing to crawl into Netanyahu’s government almost unconditionally.”
“The legitimacy he’s given Netanyahu’s government has to a large extent undermined our ability to criticize it in the future,” Rosenthal added. “Who will believe us?”
Only one Zionist Union MK, Eitan Broshi, has publicly expressed willingness to join the government, and at least 14 (including all five Hatnuah MKs) are adamantly opposed.
Likud sources confirmed that the offer to Herzog remains unchanged: Zionist Union would get seven or eight ministerial posts, three deputy ministers and three Knesset committee chairmanships.
But Labor is also demanding progress in the peace process, a reduction in Habayit Hayehudi’s power and various socioeconomic measures. A Labor source said Netanyahu hasn’t been sufficiently forthcoming on these issues.