Herzog: No Unity Negotiations if Netanyahu Is Also Talking to Lieberman

The opposition leader says the prime minister is facing a choice between going to war orchestrated by Lieberman and 'embarking on a journey of hope' with the Zionist Union.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog speaks at a press conference on unity talks in Jerusalem, May 18, 2016.
Emil Salman

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog said Wednesday that he will not take part in talks about joining the coalition so long that Yisrael Beiteinu is also in the running to enter the government. 

Herzog was responding to comments by Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who said earlier Wednesday that he would considering leaving the opposition if his conditions are met. Among Lieberman's demands are legislation on death penalty to terrorists and the defense portfolio.   

Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union, a joint slate consisting of Labor and Hatnuah, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a choice between "going to war  orchestrated by Lieberman and [Minister Naftali] Bennett or embarking on a journey of hope for all Israeli citizens."

Until Netanyahu makes his decision, Herzog said, the Zionist Union will not hold talks on entering the coalition. "I don't go by Lieberman's agenda," he said.

The prime minister was expected to meet with Lieberman at 4 P.M. on Wednesday.

Herzog said the choice comes down to who gets the defense portfolio. He reiterated that he has identified a diplomatic opportunity vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and urged Netanyahu not to miss it. 

"I listened closely to Sissi's remarks yesterday," he said, referring to the Egyptian president's call to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. "We have a historic opportunity for a rare regional development that could change the face of the Middle East. It wasn't insignificant, it was real. The president of Egypt doesn't work for Netanyahu, and he doesn't work for me. 

"The responsibility to act on this possibility is on Netanyahu history will judge this moment," he said.    

MK Shelly Yacimovich slammed Herzog following the press conference, saying that the party leader has chosen to "to be the hero of an embarrassing play that has disgraced the Labor party

"Netanyahu extended to Herzog a frayed bone of leftovers, which Herzog insisted on taking as if it were a lost treasure, and even that bone has now been snatched from his mouth against his will. Even if the Netanyahu-Lieberman meeting leads nowhere, we must end this farce immediately."

Sources close to Herzog said on Tuesday that he is determined to join the government if he manages to reach an agreement with Netanyahu. However, according to the sources, gaps between the two politicians' demands remain. "The diplomatic issue was and remains the main bone of contention," one sources said.