Labor confirms Netanyahu sought unity government

Rivlin to start marathon talks with factions, Herzog calls on prime minister to ‘heal the rift he caused’ with comments on high Arab voter turnout.

March 22, 2015 06:13
4 minute read.
Isaac Herzog


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his trusted former chief of staff Natan Eshel to opposition leader Isaac Herzog, to check whether his Zionist Union faction would join a national unity government, sources close to Herzog said on Saturday night.

The sources confirmed a Channel 10 report that Eshel checked informally on Netanyahu’s behalf and that Herzog responded that there was no chance he would join Netanyahu’s government.

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Zionist Union officials denied a report that MK Tzipi Livni was considering breaking off from the faction with other MKs and joining the coalition.

Netanyahu said repeatedly throughout the campaign that he would not form a government with the Zionist Union. But the possibility of at least part of the Zionist Union entering the coalition being on the table could help Netanyahu bring down the asking price of his prospective coalition partners on the Right.

Both Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said over the weekend that there was no guarantee they would join Netanyahu’s coalition.

“Kulanu is a party of ideology,” Kahlon wrote on his Facebook page on Friday.

“The results of the election are clear, but our ideology will remain what matters. We will keep our promises to the public in the coalition talks. We are not coming to talk or to get cabinet seats but to make a change, solve problems and fix Israeli society. None of us were born in the cabinet, and none of us has to be there.”

Herzog said Netanyahu must make amends with Israel’s Arab minority following his comments about high Arab voter turnout. An Israel Democracy Institute spokesman told The Jerusalem Post’s Ariel Ben Solomon on Friday that the IDI estimated Arab voter turnout at around 70 percent, a huge increase from the 56.5% turnout in the 2013 election. “When Netanyahu said that the Arabs were heading to the polls in droves, he humiliated and hurt 20% of Israel’s citizens all in the name of his reelection drive,” Herzog said.

“His first order of business must be to right this wrong with deeds, not with empty words. He must heal this rift that he caused.”

The prime minister said he was not against Arabs voting, he was upset that a great deal of money was spent by foreign sources in an effort to influence the vote and topple him.

Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said that after Netanyahu took Bayit Yehudi voters away to the Likud, he should compensate her party with the amount of portfolios Bayit Yehudi would have received had he not done so. Bayit Yehudi won eight Knesset seats but is demanding three cabinet positions for party chairman Naftali Bennett, current Construction Minister Uri Ariel and Shaked.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid called upon Netanyahu Saturday not to appoint Shas chairman Arye Deri as interior minister. Lapid said it was wrong to put a man who served jail time for bribery in charge of a ministry with a large budget.

Shas responded that Lapid had been the worst finance minister in history and therefore has no right to scold anyone.

President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations on Sunday with delegations from the various party factions that will be represented in the 20th Knesset to seek their recommendations for the member of Knesset whom he should task to form the next government. In an unprecedented measure, Rivlin received permission from Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, who is chairman of the Central Elections Committee, to begin the consultations and not wait for the official final results to be presented to him on Wednesday.

Rivlin, who was twice speaker of the Knesset, is eager to see the installation of a new government as quickly as possible and is not wasting any time, particularly in advance of the upcoming Passover holiday period.

According to law, Rivlin can ask anyone from among the 120 incoming MKs who he believes will have the best chance of succeeding in putting together a stable coalition to try to do so. But barring unforeseen circumstances, Rivlin is expected on Wednesday to task Netanyahu with forming a government.

Netanyahu would then have 28 days to do so but could ask for another 14.

Originally Rivlin had thought to meet first with the smaller parties and to work up to the larger parties. But the Likud is to come first, followed by the Joint (Arab) List, Zionist Union, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism. On Monday, Rivlin is scheduled to meet with representatives of Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz.

Herzog told Channel 2 on Saturday night that he considered his election campaign a success.

“I didn’t fail,” he said. “I got the party its best result since 1992. The time has come to give me credit. I believe I will be the next prime minister.”

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