‘Secret coalition talks’ between Netanyahu, Herzog said frozen after Labor head hit by graft probe

Isaac Herzog seen with MK Tzipi Livni at a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Isaac Herzog seen with MK Tzipi Livni at a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)


Zionist Union no. 2 MK Tzipi Livni has said she opposes her faction joining the Likud-led coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a letter to some 30,000 members of Zionist Union, an alliance of the Labor Party and Livni’s own Hatnua party, she insisted that members of the shared Knesset list “don’t share the path of this government.

“Those who are members [of the government] and vote for it [in parliamentary no-confidence votes] are helping those who are eating away at our values,” the Haaretz daily quoted from her letter on Saturday. “There is a yawning gap between us and them, and we must stand resilient and fight for our values, and not give our votes to whitewash policies that are not ours.”

On Thursday, Haaretz reported that Likud and Zionist Union had been in advanced stages of talks to form a coalition government prior to the announcement of a corruption probe into Zionist Union chief MK Isaac Herzog.

Herzog and Netanyahu had been holding secret talks for months, according to the report, and the sides had even swapped draft agreements.

The talks were said to have intensified over the past few weeks, up until police announced an investigation into Herzog’s handling of financial contributions in Labor primary elections.

Herzog and Netanyahu had expected to reach an agreement by the end of next month, before the end of the Knesset’s spring recess, and to present a unity government in time for the summer legislative session.

Gaps remained between the two sides, according to the report, including Herzog’s demand that Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party be removed from the coalition — a demand said to have been rejected by Netanyahu — and disagreements over the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

Herzog’s office did not confirm or deny the report, saying: “There was some running around on the part of many people in the past year, who tried to advance contacts for unity, and it didn’t ripen into anything substantial.”

A Labor member of the Zionist Union Knesset list, MK Merav Michaeli, also came out against a unity government with Likud over the weekend.

“This government has already existed a year, and even though in the prime minister’s office there is someone who tries every few days to rekindle these rumors, the fact is that a year has passed and nothing has changed,” Michaeli said in a statement.

“I trust the chairman of the party [Herzog] to leave things as they are, and that Zionist Union will continue to lead the opposition to this terrible government.”

At the end of last month, Herzog was named as a second senior Israeli lawmaker suspected of graft, a day after Interior Minister Aryeh Deri — who was imprisoned from 2000 to 2002 for embezzlement — revealed he was again at the center of a major corruption investigation.

Rumors about a looming unity government have waxed and waned since last year’s elections, driven by the razor-thin 61-59 majority of the current coalition.

As reported by The Times of Israel