Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog (left) and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon became the first senior politician to publicly confirm the existence of recent talks on forming a national unity government Wednesday at the annual Israel Bar Association Conference in Eilat.
Both Likud and Zionist Union sources have publicly denied such talks recently. But Kahlon, who has been pushing for the Likud and the Zionist Union to join together since before the government was formed, confirmed them.
“Apparently, there were contacts that were intended to bring [Isaac] ‘Buji’ Herzog into the government,” Kahlon said. “But the probe [into alleged campaign fund-raising violations by Herzog] distanced them. I think if the Zionist Union was in the coalition today, some of the issues that have been raised here would not be on the public agenda.”
Kahlon was referring to attacks on the Supreme Court and legal establishment by right-wing politicians at the conference. He expressed concern about the current coalition’s ability to pass the next state budget.
“There will be great difficulty in passing the next budget with a narrow coalition,” he said. “A majority of the Knesset is required, and when we are running it with 61 MKs, it is difficult if not impossible.
“[Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman is distancing himself from the coalition, and Yesh Atid is not even in the coalition’s area code,” he said. “So what is left is Buji, and I tell you, the prime minister wants him, and would be willing to pay.
The only party that can join is the Zionist Union.”
Kahlon expressed optimism that by the time the Knesset returns from its extended Passover recess on May 23, there will be a solution to the mini-rebellion that has been taking place in the Likud by two MKs insisting on bringing in the remaining Ethiopian immigrants.
The Kulanu leader confirmed that he is not interested in becoming prime minister in the future and that his goal is to accomplish as much as possible as finance minister.
Herzog, who does want to become prime minister, suffered a blow Wednesday, when the Israel Hayom newspaper published a document proving that police have been probing the Zionist Union leader’s alleged campaign fund-raising violations since October.
Associates of Herzog had accused Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit of being behind the probe, because he recently hired Moshe Klughaft, a strategist with a no-holds-barred attack strategy. But the document proved the probe has been taking place since well before Margalit started his campaign or hired Klughaft.
Herzog has denied committing any wrongdoing whatsoever. Sources close to him denied Kahlon’s claims of efforts to expand the coalition.
“Kahlon has been saying such things for a year already,” a Herzog associate said. “It is not reality.
There were overtures from mediators representing people. But there was no real practical action.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Herzog met for what the Prime Minister’s Office called a regular monthly security briefing and not a political meeting on Tuesday.