Israeli Knesset .
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Likud’s coalition negotiating team is to meet all day Sunday with representatives of Kulanu, Shas and United Torah Judaism in an effort to finalize agreements with them before Tuesday, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must request a two-week extension from President Reuven Rivlin.
Completing deals with the three parties would enable Netanyahu to tell Rivlin he already has 53 MKs set to enter his coalition, with Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu on the way.
Meanwhile, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday firmly denied reports that he was still considering entering the coalition. Speaking at a cultural event in Tel Aviv, he said he would devote his attention to bringing down Netanyahu and forcing another election.
“I said after the election that I was going to the opposition,” he said. “The opposition is not a fall-back plan for me. It is my preference.”
Herzog said Netanyahu had made clear that he prefers a right-wing coalition and even called the Zionist Union anti-Zionist. He criticized Netanyahu for his handling of the Iran issue and his comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany.
“I’m not at all willing to accept that on every Holocaust Remembrance Day the leader of this country says we are headed toward the annihilation of the Jewish people,” he said. “That is fear mongering and sowing panic.
We cannot underestimate the Iranian threat, but we also need to act responsibly and calmly and not say that Israel is liable to be an ephemeral entity because of this threat.”
Netanyahu held what were termed positive meetings Friday with Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
Both Bennett and Liberman said afterward that progress was made in the talks after neither of them had met with Netanyahu in weeks.
In the meeting with Bennett, the Bayit Yehudi leader told Netanyahu he is not interested in being strategic affairs minister, but he would be willing to remain economy minister.
The Likud had offered him both portfolios, but Bayit Yehudi officials were upset that this was relayed through the press. The Strategic Affairs portfolio may end up going to Liberman.
Yisrael Beytenu officials said portfolios were not discussed in Liberman’s meeting with Netanyahu, just ideological issues such as conversion, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) military service, and imposing the death penalty on convicted terrorists. But Liberman said following the meeting that portfolios would not be an obstacle to entering the coalition.
Liberman told Israel Radio on Friday that he would oppose expanding the cabinet beyond 18 ministers, which would make it unlikely a third portfolio could be offered to Bayit Yehudi for faction head Ayelet Shaked.
Channel 2 reported Friday that Bennett and Liberman reached an agreement whereby the former would drop his demand to be named foreign minister, Liberman’s current position, in exchange for the latter’s assistance in obtaining other key portfolios and thwarting any attempt by Netanyahu to form a national unity government with the center-left Zionist Union.
Liberman debunked claims of infighting between his orbit and the right-wing Bayit Yehudi faction in the radio interview, calling them baseless “Likud spins” meant to satisfy the media. He said a coalition with the Zionist Union would “paralyze” governing since “there is no ideological common ground with them.”
Elia Berger and Ariel Zilber contributed to this report.