Herzog: Will Consider Joining Netanyahu's Coalition Only if Given Mandate to Pursue Two-state Solution

Responsibility for fight against boycott movement, negotiations with Palestinians over statehood among demands listed by Zionist Union chairman in Facebook post.

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

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog stated Thursday that while he isn’t opposed in principle to bringing Zionist Union into the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not met his conditions for doing so. Herzog’s remarks, made on his Facebook page, came amid continuing speculation over whether he will lead his center-left faction into the right-wing ruling coalition. 

“Up to this moment, and as has always been stated, no offer has been presented that meet my red lines,” Herzog wrote, listing his terms for joining Netanyahu, including a mandate on issues such as negotiations with the Palestinians over the two-state solution, preserving the Supreme Court’s standing, and curtailing racist legislation. However, he made no detailed demands regarding these issues.

The Facebook post was Herzog’s first public statement on his attempts to join Netanyahu’s government in recent weeks, and it was met with criticism from his fellow Labor Party members. 

“Herzog has finally pulled off the mask and revealed his true face to the public,” a senior party lawmaker said. “Now everyone knows that the leader of the opposition isn’t ruling out Netanyahu as prime minister and doesn’t slam the door on entering the coalition under his leadership.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich, a former party leader, called the national unity government negotiations a “big nothing tailored so as not to anger the most right-wing party in the Knesset – Habayit Hayehudi.”

In her weekly newsletter, she wrote that the unity deal should have been “scornfully rejected long ago.” 

“This is not a unity government. This is a right-wing government for all intents and purposes, when the Labor Party crawls toward it without conditions to obtain ministries and honors,” she wrote.

MK Yoel Hasson responded on behalf Tzipi Livni, head of Hatnuah, Labor’s junior partner in Zionist Union, and congratulated Herzog on “burying the proposal,” adding that he trusted Herzog “not to consider similar proposals in the future.”

Earlier Thursday MK Stav Shaffir released a statement saying she opposed the Labor Party entering the coalition. “If such a step is moved ahead, it is no less than betrayal of the public who sent us to the Knesset, and betrayal of the vision and values of the Labor movement over the generations."

The negotiations "reek of pitiable political wheeling and dealing and chasing after jobs," Shaffir said, adding that they also damage the Labor's prospects of replacing Netanyahu's government. "Netanyahu’s diplomatic failures must not be whitewashed – they must be fought and the state must be rescued from the ongoing decline to more dangerous depths in the economy and security. I expect my fellow faction members to act like leaders and not like the least of the wheeler-dealers," she said.

Herzog didn’t mention Netanyahu in the post and avoided leveling direct criticism of the prime minister’s performance in office. In the post, he made a list of vague demands for joining the government, among them authority over the fight against the international boycott movement against Israel, over improving relations with the United States and Europe, over negotiations with Middle Eastern countries and over the process of separation from the Palestinians through the creation of a Palestinian state. He said he wanted his “hand on the steering wheel” with regard to domestic issues such as the cost of living and protection of the Supreme Court, presumably from political interference.

Though Herzog said the coalition talks have not succeeded because no “suitable offer” has been made, sources in his party said the real reason was lack of support in his ranks for such a move. 

“Herzog was very keen to adopt the current deal offered by the Likud,” a Labor lawmaker told Haaretz, adding that Herzog discovered that the party wasn’t behind him and that voters view his joining the coalition as “betrayal.” 

Previously, sources in Zionist Union told Haaretz that Herzog was “desperate” to join the coalition, despite his failure to persuade Netanyahu to significantly change the coalition guidelines or oust the rightist Habayit Hayehudi party from the government – both of which he had previously demanded.

Herzog’s associates stressed 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. Yacimovich and Livni both said they wouldn’t join the government with him, with Livni vowing to pull Hatnuah out of Zionist Union if Herzog brought Labor into Netanyahu’s coalition.