Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 20, 2016.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to negotiating to expand the coalition Wednesday, though he implied it would not be possible in the short term.
Asked at a meeting of Likud ministers about reports of coalition talks, Netanyahu confirmed that such negotiations took place in recent weeks.
As for other parties joining the 1-seat majority, 61-Knesset member coalition, Netanyahu said: “There’s one who does not want it and one who can’t. We will continue trying in the coming weeks.”
The “one who does not want it” is a reference to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, while the “one who can’t” is Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog, who faces strong opposition within his faction.
MK Eitan Cabel, a close Herzog ally, denied that there were any negotiations.
“So Netanyahu said it. He says a lot of things,” Cabel told Army Radio. “He has his interests, and he’ll say what he feels like.”
Still, Cabel expressed confidence that if Herzog wanted to bring the party into the coalition, he could.
However, in recent days Herzog’s rivals for Labor’s leadership, in a primary with a still-unannounced date, MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit, publicly voiced strong opposition to joining the coalition.
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) suggested that the party should be negotiating with other potential partners.
“If all the energy invested in spin and negotiations to form a fake unity government was invested in forming a large democratic bloc, we wouldn’t have who to join. Netanyahu would be replaced,” Hasson wrote on Twitter.
The Likud’s coalition partners had mixed feelings about the talks.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said that “if Netanyahu creates a left-wing government it will be a betrayal of the public’s trust and will require us to create a right-wing alternative to the leadership.”
This week, sources close to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said that the party would not stay in the coalition if it has to give up the Justice Ministry.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of the Kulanu party, however, has said that he would very much like to expand the coalition, and his deputy minister, Yitzhak Cohen of Shas, also spoke enthusiastically about the possibility on Tuesday.
In the same meeting with Likud ministers, Netanyahu also expressed hope that the ongoing criminal investigation into Interior Minister (and Shas chairman) Arye Deri and the financing of his family’s vacation home in the Galilee will come to an end soon, and then he (the prime minister) will begin a cabinet shuffle for Likud MKs.
Netanyahu currently holds the Foreign, Communications and Economy portfolios, and is expected to appoint another minister to the latter.
Coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi is thought to be the likely candidate to be promoted to the cabinet, though not necessarily to the Economy Ministry, which may be given to a minister who has a less-prestigious position, such as Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.