Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Zionist Union faction, traded pointed remarks regarding the prospects of a unity government during the opening of the Knesset’s summer session on Monday evening.
“In order to ensure our ability to deal not only with the challenges at our doorstep but also with different opportunities that opened up due to the change in the geopolitical situation with other relationships that we have with different Arab countries, I am working with all my power to expand the government,” Netanyahu said. “The door is open to anyone who wants to pitch in for the good of the country.”
Coalition talks failed with Herzog last week after Netanyahu struck a deal with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Liberman, making Liberman the new defense minister. Due to the new coalition agreement, Netanyahu’s government is now composed of all of the Knesset’s right-wing parties.
Herzog, who faced intense backlash from his own party for negotiating with Netanyahu, rejected his assertion that the door remained open for his center-left Zionist Union faction to join his coalition.
“I regret, Mr. Netanyahu, that you slammed the door,” Herzog said. “I regret that you chose to sell out what’s best for the country for your own political interests. Twitter will perhaps remember you well, but not history.”
Herzog described a personal moment of revelation at the funeral of Dafna Meir, an Israeli woman murdered in January by a knife-wielding Palestinian who attacked her in her own doorway. Meir, a mother of four, reportedly died while stopping the terrorist from entering her home and reaching her children.
“Ar Dafna Meir’s funeral, I stood for two hours in the crowd with a piercing thought – something broke inside me, and I reached the conclusion that we cannot go on like this,” Herzog said. “I chose to risk my political position and open the door to changing the present and future for all of us.”
According to Herzog, he reached out to leaders around the world, and particularly Arab leaders who “lack the Israel-complex of their predecessors.” These leaders were ready to forge an historic regional peace provided that Herzog’s party join the coalition, Herzog claimed. Then he reached out to Netanyahu, who ultimately rebuffed the offer and chose Liberman instead.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day, when faced with the choice between going down in history as a leader who swam against the tide and being a leader who is swept along with the tide into the ocean of forgotten people, Netanyahu made his choice,” added Herzog.
Netanyahu responded to Herzog’s remarks shortly thereafter, insisting that the door remains open for the Zionist Union to join the coalition.
“The door is open,” Netanyahu said, addressing Herzog. “There is an opportunity to unite the people, there is an opportunity to promote national reconciliation, there is an opportunity to promote a regional arrangement. I urge you and your friends to not miss the opportunity and to join the national effort in these initiatives.”
Jonathan Benedek (TPS)