Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [File].
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister-designate, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, met for three hours on Sunday in an effort to work out their differences and enable the formation of a new government.
In a meeting billed as having a “good atmosphere,” the two men talked about how to implement Kahlon’s plans to lower the cost of living, fight monopolies, and solve the housing shortage. Kahlon complained about large financial promises Netanyahu made to other parties.
“Burdening the finance minister with commitments in billions is very problematic,” a source close to Kahlon said.
Kahlon has asked to control all government bodies involved in approving construction, including the Finance, Construction and Environment ministries, as well as the Interior Ministry’s Building Planning Committee.
Netanyahu and Kahlon discussed how to keep the Building Planning Committee in the Interior Ministry, which is to go to Shas chairman Arye Deri, while ensuring that Kahlon’s reforms could be implemented.
Alternatively, the possibility has been raised that the Planning Committee would shift to the Finance Ministry but under Deri’s No. 2 in Shas, MK Yitzhak Cohen, who would be a deputy finance minister.
Coalition talks took place on Sunday with United Torah Judaism and will be held on Monday with Bayit Yehudi and Shas. Deri told reporters at a Mimouna celebration at his Jerusalem home on Saturday night that he is prepared to reach an agreement with the Likud.
“We are ready to close a deal as soon as possible,” Deri said.
“It is too bad there isn’t a government yet. But I think it will still take time, because it depends on other factions which are required to form a coalition. I hope the other factions come to their senses and realize their place.”
It is expected to become easier to reach a deal with Bayit Yehudi, after Netanyahu told Likud officials that the Foreign Affairs and Defense portfolios would stay with the Likud. Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett was upset by reports that Netanyahu intended to appoint Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman as foreign minister, even though the latter party received two fewer Knesset seats than Bayit Yehudi in the March 17 election.
Sources close to Liberman mocked Netanyahu’s decision, saying that he might as well keep all the portfolios for the Likud.
Liberman said on Sunday morning that if Netanyahu forms a national unity government with the Zionist Union, his party would not join the coalition.
Ahead of the election, there were reports that Liberman was turning leftward and would try to prevent Netanyahu’s reelection.
Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog said repeatedly during the campaign that he saw Yisrael Beytenu as an integral part of the government he intended to form.
But later in the campaign, Liberman shifted rightward, and that continued on Sunday.
“Netanyahu has the right to close a deal with Herzog and [his No. 2, Tzipi] Livni,” Liberman told Israel Radio. “We wouldn’t be part of such a government.
That I can say definitely. He won the election. We would be happy to serve the nation in the opposition.
I wasn’t born in the Foreign Ministry and I don’t have to be a minister.”
Liberman said he does not know which coalition Netanyahu wants. He accused the Likud of “stalling” in coalition talks and suggested it could be because the prime minister wants a unity government.
Netanyahu raised speculation that he would seek a unity government when he said in a toast at a Mimouna celebration in Or Akiva on Saturday night that “now that the election dust has settled, we must unite the country.”
The Likud’s Gilad Erdan, who is considered the most likely candidate to be appointed foreign minister, said Netanyahu was referring to a unity government but only after right-wing parties join the coalition.
“The goal is to form a coalition based on the nationalist camp, but as it gets later, we might have to be more generous to the Zionist Union,” Erdan told Israel Radio.
He said no one wants to complete forming the government more than Netanyahu, and that it is unfortunate that “other parties are not listening to the verdict of the voters and are instead trying to obtain more influence than the voters intended for them.”
Bayit Yehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked responded that if the Likud breaks its promise not to form a government with the Zionist Union, it would be “political corruption.” The public voted for a right-wing government, and the will of the voters must be honored, she said.
A spokesman for Herzog said Netanyahu’s statement in Or Akiva was just “political spin intended to gain leverage with Bennett.”