Herzog Reportedly Eager to Join Netanyahu's Government, but Livni Dead Set Against

Labor leader, who has yet to get any concessions from prime minister, denies statement by senior coalition member that agreement has been reached.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Marc Israel Salem and Moti Milrod

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog appears eager for his Zionist Union party to join the governing coalition, but party No. 2 Tzipi Livni strongly opposes based on the portfolios that have been offered, party sources said.

On Tuesday, Herzog updated Livni on his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join a unity government. 

“Bibi isn’t letting Herzog obtain anything significant,” one source said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Herzog is trying to join, but he ran into a wall. He will have to decide soon if he will suffice with the package of portfolios offered him or halt the contacts, because he has no real achievements regarding the government’s agenda.”

Likud has rejected Herzog’s demand to drop Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi from the coalition. Herzog has also failed to receive a veto over decisions by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, or to receive broad powers over negotiations with the Palestinians.  

Zionist Union is made of up Herzog’s Labor Party and Livni’s Hatnuah. Livni told Herzog that joining the coalition would break up Zionist Union because she and the other four Hatnuah MKs would not take part. Zionist Union has 24 seats in the 120-seat Knesset; Netanyahu’s coalition currently has a 61:59 majority.  

On Tuesday, a  senior member of the coalition told TheMarker that the two sides had agreed for Labor to join the government, but Herzog denied this.  

“We did not receive an offer that is awaiting a decision,” Herzog said. “Our principles have always been clear, and when there’s an option to join the coalition and it develops, we’ll discuss it seriously.”

Likud officials have said Herzog must give an answer by next week because Netanyahu wants to present any changes to the government near the start of the Knesset summer session on May 23.

Earlier in the day, Livni reiterated her opposition to joining the government. 

“We have a historic role at this time: to fight for Israel’s values against the racism and hatred rearing their heads in the absence of leadership,” she wrote to her supporters. “We must now unite in a large camp that will restore hope to Israel.”

The Labor Party has three main objectives for joining the coalition; the first two are taking over the talks with the Palestinians and ousting Habayit Hayehudi. 

“Herzog seeks a wide toolbox for the diplomatic talks ... [but] Netanyahu isn’t even willing to declare a construction freeze in the settlements,” a Labor Party source said.

Another Labor source said Netanyahu isn’t willing to drop Habayit Hayehudi because “he doesn’t want to get in trouble with right-wing voters and doesn’t want Bennett to his right in the opposition.” 

Labor’s third objective is linked to the Histadrut labor federation. According to a Labor Party source, Histadrut chief Avi Nissenkorn “is urging us to join the coalition. He’s not interested in the diplomatic process, he’s interested in advancing social and economic legislation and receiving a position of real influence on those issues at the cabinet table.”

Meanwhile, Herzog faces serious opposition in Labor regarding joining the government – from party leaders including Erel Margalit, Shelly Yacimovich, Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir and Merav Michaeli. 

Also, an online campaign by the party’s youth movement – “You don’t join Bibi, you replace him” – is the first in a series of planned activities.