Amid harsh internal criticism, opposition leader says if appropriate offer is made by Netanyahu, he would seriously consider it

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)


Opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog on Thursday sought to dispel rumors the party was on the brink of joining the governing coalition, saying talk of a breakthrough in negotiations was premature.

In a Facebook post (Hebrew) Thursday evening, as celebrations for Israel’s 68th Independence Day came to a close, Herzog wrote that “so far, we have not received a suitable offer — if an appropriate offer is made, we will seriously consider it.”

“Rumors of a breakthrough have been premature,” he went on, adding that over the past year, he’d received near-daily requests to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, refusing every one of them.

“To sit there, without holding the wheel does not interest me,” Herzog wrote.

“If I receive a mandate to stop the next procession of funerals [by avoiding another war], to bring to a halt the threat posed by the international boycott movement [against Israel], to fix ties with the US and Europe, to launch negotiations with regional countries and to separate from the Palestinians in the form of two states to stop the ongoing terror wave — then I’ll know that my hands are at the wheel,” Herzog said, laying out the issues he’d like to pursue if he joins the coalition.

Herzog also said he wanted to lower the cost of living, protect the Israeli public in the controversial gas deal, safeguard the Supreme Court from those who seek to curb its powers and get rid of “racist, revolting” legislation in the Knesset.

Herzog’s remarks came amid scathing criticism within his party that he is even considering joining the coalition, a move which threatens to split the parliamentary faction, made up of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party. The union was formed before the 2015 national elections.

Former Labor head Shelly Yachimovich has repeatedly voiced her opposition to joining Netanyahu’s governing coalition, including on Thursday when she said that an offer the PM reportedly made to Herzogshould have been rejected out of hand.

“In internal discussions, I expressed my opinion in sharp terms,” she wrote in a message sent to reporters. “This is not a unity government, it is a right-wing government in every way, into which the Labor Party is crawling without any conditions to receive ministries and treats.”

Herzog’s number two in the Zionist Union, Livni, has vowed to stay out of such a government. She emphasized that neither she, nor the four MKs of the Hatnua party which she leads, will agree to join the coalition.

On Thursday, Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, from the Labor party, added his voice to those against joining the coalition, writing a letter to Netanyahu saying he will never join a unity government under the prime minister.

“I wish to inform you that I have no intention of joining this government, and do not consider me to be a possible voice for the coalition, but rather as a determined and sure voice for the opposition,” Margalit wrote.

On Tuesday, reports emerged that Herzog recently held talks with Netanyahu on entering the government, with sources saying the Zionist Union leader was keen to make the move. However, Netanyahu reportedly has not offered Herzog enough to satisfy his demands for significant positions in the cabinet.

The Likud party publicly denied claims Tuesday that Herzog had reached a deal to join the coalition.

“The reports that an agreement has been reached between Prime Minister Netanyahu and MK Herzog on joining the government are not correct,” the party said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s government currently has the slimmest possible Knesset majority of just 61 to 59 MKs. The Zionist Union has 24 MKs, of which 19 are members of Labor and five of Hatnua.

With the Knesset’s summer session due to begin on May 23, Netanyahu would seek to present any changes in the government to lawmakers near the beginning of the term.

Senior Zionist Union members predict the offer to join the coalition will be dropped if an agreement is not reached by then.

As reported by The Times of Israel