Netanyahu and Bennett.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Coalition negotiations officially began on Thursday at the Knesset with a meeting between representatives of Likud and Bayit Yehudi.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on his Facebook page that it was no accident that one of the first calls he had made after the election results were released last week was to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
"I see Bayit Yehudi as an important and central layer and a true partner in a stable and strong, nationalist Likud government under my leadership," Netanyahu wrote.
Bennett had suggested earlier that Bayit Yehudi could potentially sit in the opposition
. The party has expressed anger that Netanyahu allegedly reneged on a promise to give Bayit Yehudi one of the senior portfolios: the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry or Finance Ministry.
Following the meeting, Bayit Yehudi faction chairman Nir Orbach said that the electorate had spoken and desires a Likud-Bayit Yehudi nationalist government. He admitted, however, that relations with the Likud in recent days had "not been simple" and that it is not a given that the party will be in the coalition. "Wherever we will be - in the coalition or the opposition - we will preserve our nationalistic vision for the State of Israel and we will stand up for our principles that were reflected by the public in their vote for us and the Likud."
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon also voiced displeasure at the Likud's negotiating tactics, cancelling a negotiating meeting
on Thursday morning over disagreements on who would be given the chairmanship of key posts essential to fulfilling Kahlon's goal of lowering housing costs.
Likud faction chairman Ze'ev Elkin said as negotiations with Bayit Yehudi opened on Thursday that the Likud had thus far acted according to its promises.
"We promised that the first phone call would be to Miriam Peretz and the second would be to Naftali Bennett," he said, referencing a woman who lost two sons that served in the Golani Brigade and had been considered for a spot on the Likud list. "We promised during the election campaign that Kahlon would be finance minister and we told him that right after the election."
Elkin said that Likud was opening the coalition negotiations "naturally with our natural partners. Israel needs a stable government as quickly as possible."
He said that differences of opinion during negotiations were natural, but that solutions would be found in a positive manner.
Elkin said that the Likud was sorry Kahlon had decided to cancel Kulanu's meeting scheduled for Thursday morning. "It is natural that there will be demands and conflicting demands. The place to find a solution is in this room, I know no other way. Therefore, I hope that, as soon as possible, we will get back to negotiating.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog repeated Thursday that his party would go to the opposition, quashing suggestions of a possible national unity government with Likud. 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 which Bibi and Bennett are playing."
He added: "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."