Over the past few days there has been significant progress in the secret coalition negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu (Likud) and MK Itzhak Herzog (Zionist Camp – Labor), Channel 10 News reported Tuesday night. Sources inside the Zionist Camp have told Channel 10 that they believe the chances for the move are “greater than ever.” Herzog has been keeping in the loop his key members, MKs Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yachimovich and Eitan Cabel.
Still, as of Tuesday night, Herzog is yet to say yes to the Netanyahu offer, and it appears that the latter is not prepared to spot him a significant policy change on the peace negotiations, nor even revising the government’s guidelines agreement, or dropping Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. The only thing Netanyahu is willing to offer are ministerial portfolios, with the Foreign Ministry going to Herzog himself. So far, of the three key members the Labor chairman has consulted, only MK Cabel supports the deal, Livni and Yachimovich have rejected it out of hand.
Incidentally, a week ago there were rumors that Yachimovich would be in line for Minister of the Economy, the office that controls the off-shore gas deal with major American and Israeli companies, a deal Yachimovich has fought to kill all the way up to the Supreme Court. But, apparently, even this opportunity for the cat to be appointed to guard the cream is not enticing enough for the former Labor Chairman Yachimovich.
Israel has seen its share of wall-to-wall coalition governments, especially in the 1980s, and in each instance it has been Labor which acquiesced to join with Likud as a secondary partner, even when the two camps had come in dead even in the elections. But, as Ha’aretz pointed out Wednesday, on more recent occasions when Labor joined the right despite the enormous gaps between them on social and economic issues, the excuse has been the dream of the 2-state solution. And so, in 2005, Labor joined the late Ariel Sharon government to assist in the eviction of Jews from Gaza; and in 2009 Labor joined Netanyahu’s government after the latter had given his Bar Ilan speech promising the 2-state, which he followed up with a 10-month settlements construction freeze.
But in 2016 Netanyahu cannot offer anything even close to the 2-state, because such a move could spell his end as Likud leader. Bennett et al would leave the government and join with Lieberman to form a patriotic, pro-sovereignty block that, together with the right flank of Likud, would soon turn Netanyahu into a pariah in his own camp.
Netanyahu honestly wants Labor in his government, if only to rid him of the constant bickering of several Likud MKs who are threatening to vote against his bills, most profoundly against his budget, which is due in the coming Knesset session. With 61 MKs as the basis for his government, Netanyahu faces mock executions every week. If Labor moves over, even if only 15 or 16 out of the 24-MK faction agree, and even if Bennett and his 8-MK faction walk, Netanyahu would still have netted and additional 7 or 8 coalition members. He’s willing to pay for it with as many as 9 ministerial portfolios, as well as a few key committee chairmanships for the aspiring non-ministers in Labor.
But he can’t afford to U-turn on abandoning the 2-state solution at this point in the game.