Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Likud intends to use the prospect of President Reuven Rivlin pushing the formation of a national-unity government to persuade its prospective coalition partners to ease their demands before the initial April 22 deadline to form a new coalition, Likud sources said Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a four-week mandate from Rivlin Wednesday night to form a government. If he fails to build a coalition by April 22, he could ask Rivlin for two more weeks, but the president could insist that a government be formed with the Zionist Union during a second round of coalition talks.
Likud sources said the prospect of the president’s intervention could make it easier for Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu to compromise ahead of the initial deadline and enable a new government to be formed in time for the Independence Day holiday, which begins that evening.
Netanyahu met with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett at the Prime Minister’s Office Thursday night, and the Likud’s negotiating team held marathon talks at the Knesset with representatives from Bayit Yehudi, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism. No significant progress was made in any of the meetings and Likud officials said portfolios were purposely not discussed.
“On the first day of negotiations, everyone has an interest in digging in and pushing maximalist positions to force the other’s hand,” a Likud source said. “But everyone understands there are time constraints.”
Likud officials mocked Kulanu and Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked for boycotting the coalition talks and Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for seeking top portfolios.
“They still haven’t internalized who won the election,” a Likud official said. “We are waiting patiently for them to see things in proportion.”
Likud faction chairman Ze’ev Elkin, who is on the party’s negotiating team, said the party representatives asked for allocations of billions of shekels that cannot possibly be accommodated in the next state budget, which must be passed soon.
Bennett warned Wednesday that he is not afraid of sitting in the opposition if he does not get what he wants in the coalition negotiations. He said he fears Netanyahu is pushing for a unity government with the Zionist Union.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog strongly denied that there are any plans for his party to enter a national-unity government, accusing Bennett of “crying and threatening opposition in order to extort more settlements, more funds for organizations that he is close to, or a job as a minister through which he will endanger the interests of Israel.”
He said that right-wing parties were using rumors of a unity government in attempts to increase their bargaining position in coalition negotiations.
“Let me clarify: The Zionist Union is not a pawn in the game of running to destroy the State of Israel that Bibi [Netanyahu] and Bennett are playing,” he said. “I suggest that we all worry less about chairs and portfolios and turn our attention to the thousands of mothers and fathers that again this Passover will have to stand in line for food stamps and aid organizations so that their children will have a holiday meal.”
Netanyahu said on his Facebook page that it is no accident that one of the first calls he made after the election results were released last week was to Bennett.
“I see Bayit Yehudi as an important and central player and a true partner in a stable and strong, nationalist Likud government under my leadership,” Netanyahu wrote.
Kahlon’s decision to boycott the first day of talks came after Netanyahu had expressed willingness to give MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and Shas leader Arye Deri the chairmanship of the Interior Ministry’s Construction Planning Authority.
He said the decision to cancel negotiations came “after the Likud’s political maneuver to hand out jobs at the expense of providing the needed tools to bring down housing costs and deal with the cost of living, before the coalition negotiations teams had even sat down.”
In response, the Likud called Kahlon’s actions confusing and unnecessary.
“The place to clarify issues like this is around the negotiation table,” the party said in a statement.
Daniel Clinton contributed to this report.