Herzog confirms unity gov't talks, but says no concrete offer on table
Labor leader says he won't join government unless allowed to 'take the wheel,' noting 'if an appropriate proposal is presented, we'll seriously consider it'; opposition to the move comes both from within the party, and from the coalition.
"Over the past year, I've received daily requests to join the government," Herzog wrote on his Facebook page. "I answered all of them by saying that I was not interested in sitting in the government without 'taking the wheel.'"
He dismissed recent reports that the talks have reached a breakthrough, saying "at present, we have not received an appropriate proposal. If one such proposal is presented, we'll seriously consider it."
The Labor leader said that if he received the mandate to "stop the next round of funerals, block the threat of international boycott, bring the US and Europe closer again as allies, launch a negotiation with countries in the region, and separate from the Palestinians to stop the continuous terror attacks - then I'll know my hands were on the wheel."
He further detailed his list of demands, saying "If I receive a mandate to lower the cost of living, protect public interest with regards to the natural gas plan, safeguard the Supreme Court, and get rid of this heinous racist legislation - then I'll know my hands were on the wheel."
In his post, Herzog also explained why he was considering joining the Netanyahu government. "I'm worried and bothered by the level of hatred on the streets, the violence, the racism, and the incitement against public figures, military officers and judges. We all carry the responsibility to lower the flames of hatred on the streets and strengthen internal reconciliation," he said.
Officials in the Likud, meanwhile, said there is a slim chance Herzog's demands will be met. They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to change the basic principles of the government and remove Bayit Yehudi from the coalition.
"Contrary to reports, so far Herzog hasn't agreed to (Netanyahu's) basic conditions," one Likud official said.
The Likud officials said that as far as Netanyahu is concerned, the negotiations have ended. "The ball is now in Bougie's court," Netanyahu reportedly told them, using Herzog's nickname. The prime minister, they said, has set a deadline for Herzog, who will have to make a decision on whether or not to join the government by the middle of next week.
Opposition from across the political spectrum
Herzog encountered harsh opposition from within his Labor party to the possibility of joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government.
"This is a proposal that should've been rejected with scorn a long time ago," former Labor leader and senior MK Shelly Yachimovich wrote to her supporters. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen."
She said she has presented strong opposition to joining the government in internal conversations. "In reality, I'm simply preventing this mistake (from happening)."
"This wouldn't be a unity government," Yachimovich stated. "This will remain a right-wing government for all intents and purposes, with the Labor party crawling in with no conditions so it could receive ministries and benefits. It is one giant nothing, all of it crafted so as to not antagonize the most right-wing party in the Knesset - Bayit Yehudi."
Yachimovich was not the only one in Labor opposing to joining the government. MK Amir Peretz, who left Labor to join Livni's Hatnua and then returned to Labor, also expressed his objection.
Labor MK Stav Shaffir joined the chorus of opposition, saying "it's embarrassing to me to think we're joining this government."
She went on to say that "joining the radical right-ring Netanyahu government is a betrayal of each and every one of our voters. For a whole year we promised it was 'either us or him.' At no point did we say 'it's us, and also him.' The very fact the debate continues over crawling into the government is embarrassing to me."
MK Yoel Hasson, who is a member of Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party, which is in partnership with Herzog's Labor party to form the Zionist Union, said that the "proposal in question was not to join a true unity government, but to ensure Netanyahu's fifth term (as prime minister). I and the members of Hatnua have no intention of taking a part in such a move. I'm glad Herzog buried the proposal and rejected it out of hand, and I trust him not to consider any similar proposals in the future."
The talks about joining a unity government have reportedly led to a dispute between Herzog and his Zionist Union co-leader Livni. According to officials in Livni's Hatnua, Livni feels that Herzog has "misled" Hatnua when he publicly and bluntly slammed Netanyahu, while at the same time negotiating a unity government with him.
Livni clarified to Herzog that if he decides to join Netanyahu's government, it would mean the end of their partnership, since none of the members of her faction are willing to join the coalition.
Herzog, however, denied any dispute exists between him and Livni.
Members of the Labor party were not the only ones to vehemently object to the possibility of a unity government. Members of the ruling Likud party have also expressed opposition to the move.
Likud MK Yoav Kish said on Thursday evening, "As the chairman of the Lobby for the Land of Israel, I object to adding the Labor party to the government if the move affects, even a little bit, the fundamental principles of the government and its support of our right to settle all parts of our land. If the Labor party chooses to ignore its own values in order to join the government, that would be their decision to make. As far as the Likud is concerned, we will not compromise at the expense of the settlement enterprise."
Likud MK Oren Hazan said such a move "is like spitting in our voters' faces: not just members of Likud, but a million people who voted for the Likud party.
"I object to the expansion of the coalition, there's no need for it. The public voted for the Likud party because it didn't trust Bougie," Hazan added, using Herzog's nickname.
Meanwhile, Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said he had no "personal problem" with the Zionist Union's MKs, but he will "immediately quit the coalition if a left-wing government is formed."
"I don't care about specific people, I care about their policies on diplomacy, security and settlements," he said.
Attila Somfalvi, Itamar Eichner and Yuval Karni contributed to this report.