Reasons for newsy New Year

November 24, 2016 23:12

Rosh Hashanah in Israel is traditionally a break from political news. This year, however, the hiatus ended early with reports on Tuesday morning that negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leader of the Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, on a coalition deal, were close to completion. Mr Herzog, in shul at the time Twitter began buzzing with the news, was caught unprepared. By the time he got home and texted his enraged Labour Party colleagues that it was just "another unfounded report on one of the websites", few were prepared to believe him. As the Chag ended, he made to the TV studios to continue his denying, but he wouldn't rule out joining the coalition either.

Mr Herzog was telling the truth. There have been no formal or informal talks between him and the prime minister in recent days. But the reports were accurate as well. A draft of a coalition deal between Likud and Zionist Union has been there in one version or another for over a year now and messages are constantly being passed between various intermediaries, including fresh demands, or an update of this or that detail. The impetus now is coming from Mr Netanyahu, but Mr Herzog has grounds to believe he has a better chance now of persuading enough of his party members to join him in coalition.

Mr Netanyahu can probably weather most storms without enlarging his coalition. He is concerned that Barack Obama, free of political considerations once the November 8 election is over, will make a last "grand gesture" on the Israel-Palestine issue. Mr Netanyahu believes that to ward off such a development, he needs to create some semblance of activity on the diplomatic front - Israeli participation in an international conference with the Palestinians, in Cairo or Paris and a temporary freeze on settlement building. He needs Mr Herzog as his representative to lend these moves a bit of credibility.

November 24, 2016 23:12

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