Herzog: Tourism Minister Levin Nixed Unity Gov’t, Peace Deal

Zionist Camp leader Yitzchak Herzog at a faction meeting in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM - Were it not for Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Israel might have had a unity government that included Zionist Camp, party chairman Yitzchak Herzog said in a panel of party MKs this week. Herzog was speaking among Zionist Camp MKs who may challenge him for the party leadership.

When the subject of a unity government came up, said Herzog, Levin “screamed and yelled at Netanyahu, telling him ‘This is not allowed, we will not let you do this.’ He also threatened Netanyayhu that if the term ‘settlement blocs’ was used in future agreements with the Palestinians, that Netanyahu would lose the support of settlers and their supporters.”

As a result, Herzog said, Netanyahu decided to reject an agreement that had been proposed by Egypt at a secret meeting in 2016 in Aqaba between Israel, Jordan and Egypt. At that meeting, reports said, Netanyahu agreed to freeze construction outside settlement blocs in Yehudah and Shomron if the United States and Arab countries permitted Israel to build inside the blocs. The meeting was chaired by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to a report in Haaretz, about a month after that event, in February 2016, Herzog and Netanyahu flew to Cairo to meet with Egyptian head of state General al-Sisi to work out further details of the plan.

In exchange for Israeli building in the settlement blocs, Netanyahu offered a plan that would allow for massive Palestinian building in the rest of Area C, essentially subsuming those areas into a future Palestinian state. A major infrastructure project would be developed in Gaza, and Israel would increase its security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, the report said. Israel would also declare its commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the 2002 Arab peace plan, stressing its willingness to discuss aspects of the agreement with Arab states in the region. The agreement would also include an aspect of regional cooperation, with Israel inviting officials from Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states to a summit at which Netanyahu would represent Israel. In addition, the US would promise to lean on the PA to rein in its excessive anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Netanyahu was prepared to go through with the deal, and discussed it with Herzog, the party leaders said. Herzog said that Netanyahu would have appointed him Foreign Minister, forging the unity government he had been striving for since the 2015 elections. But Levin would have none of it, Herzog said.

“That outburst made Netanyahu nervous, and he decided to back off from the plan, thus was lost the chance for a meaningful negotiation process,” Herzog said. Levin did not comment publicly on the matter.