Ronen Zvulun / Reuters Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem May 23, 2016.

Netanyahu's Coalition Games

Isaac Herzog's Bad Week

In the early morning hours of May 8, 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima party chief Shaul Mofaz dropped a bombshell on the Israeli political system by announcing the formation of a national unity government. Kadima’s shocking entry into the Netanyahu government—only weeks earlier, Mofaz had stated that “the current government represents all that is wrong with Israel,” asking “Why should we join it?"—swelled the coalition’s ranks to a historic 94-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Early elections that had been expected for that fall were thought to be put off indefinitely; the media, with some reason, took to calling the prime minister “King Bibi.”

The Netanyahu-Mofaz union was the last instance of a national unity government in Israel. It lasted less than 90 days and effectively ended Mofaz’s political career. Perhaps willfully ignoring that recent history, Israeli opposition leader and Labor party chairman Isaac “Boujie” Herzog entered into serious talks with Netanyahu about joining the current government—talks that blew up in Herzog’s face last week, when Netanyahu made a last minute volte-face and nearly closed a deal to bring his former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Israel Beitenu party into the coalition.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the Zionist Union party, are pictured together as campaign billboards rotate in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2015.

Herzog’s public standing had steadily eroded since he lost to Netanyahu in last year’s bruising general election. Perhaps unfairly, Herzog is seen as ineffectual and lacking in security credentials, an impression of fecklessness that his recent disastrous overtures towards Netanyahu did nothing to dispel. For Herzog’s part, a move into a senior government post, likely foreign minister, would have been one way for him to reassert himself on the national stage. For Netanyahu, bringing in Herzog’s Zionist Union (of which Labor is the major component) would have greatly increased the premier’s tenuous one-seat majority in parliament and, internationally, provided left-wing cover for his government.

If the genuineness of the talks is to be believed, the only question was what the price would have been. In a harried

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