Netanyahu may seek unity government with Herzog

The  framework agreement with Iran is so bad that the threat of an Iranian bomb may unite Israel politically in a way that seemed impossible just a few short weeks ago, when Prime Minister Netanyahu won another term in national elections.

Netanyahu is considering forming a national unity government with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, whose party finished in second place in the elections.  The coalition would serve the dual purpose of uniting Israel against what almost all sides agree is an existential threat to Israel, while assuaging White House concerns about Netanyahu.


Political analysts pointed on Monday to a new position paper from the main challenger that Netanyahu beat in last month's election, the Zionist Union, that echoed his criticism of the April 2 agreement between world powers and Iran.

The party document called for changes in a final accord to ensure a significant reduction of Tehran's nuclear capabilities.

Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud, party, seemed to allude to such a governing option over the weekend, saying Israeli unity must be strengthened and pledging: "that is what we are going to do".

Netanyahu has until May 6 to put together a government.

With the support of a new centrist party, Kulanu, and far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions, he would control 67 of parliament's 120 seats and so would not need a national unity deal in order to form a workable coalition.

But including the softly-spoken Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog in a new administration could help tone down a dispute between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama over the nuclear deal.

"Netanyahu needs Herzog as a foreign minister to repair ties with the Obama administration," Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, wrote in a column.

"In a right-wing government there is nobody who can carry out that mission."

Herzog has not voiced public support for a unity deal - or ruled one out.

Asked about Netanyahu's remarks on a need for unity, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said they were "more than a hint" at an intent to seek an alliance with Herzog.

A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank on April 1 found 49 percent of Israelis favour Netanyahu ruling jointly with Herzog, and only 35 percent preferred a rightist coalition.

Some members of Herzog's party have dismissed the idea.

"There isn't any such possibility," said Zionist Union lawmaker Hillik Bar, citing what he called failures of centrist and left-leaning parties in previous rightist-dominated coalitions to moderate government policies.

For Israel, Samuel Johnson's admonition seems appropriate: "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Such is Israel's dilemma when their best and most faithful ally in the past throws them under the bus so that an incompetent president of the United States can claim some kind of legacy. 

This is not a game for the Israelis, where pieces are moved around a board and geopolitical dice are rolled in hopes of a positive outcome.  The threat from Iran is as real as it gets, and, to borrow another famous quote, this time widely attributed to Ben Franklin, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Israeli analysts could be right; a Netanyahu/Herzog government probably wouldn't last very long.  But it would almost certainly last through June 30, when the deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran is reached.  If a final deal is as bad as the framework deal would suggest it will be. then the state of Israel will have some very hard choices to make.  Do they attack the Iranian nuclear sites or depend on the U.S. for protection?  At that point, having Herzog in the government and on board for whatever must be done to safeguard Israel will prove to be a more than political expediency.  The unity will assure the continued survival of the Jewish state.

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