Herzog and Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog held a secret meeting a few days ago in which they discussed the possibility of forming a national unity government, Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson reported Monday.
Sources informed about the meeting said Netanyahu is interested in forming a wide coalition that would include both Herzog’s Zionist Union and Bayit Yehudi, despite the vast differences between the parties. Unlike Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett has never ruled out sitting in a coalition with the Zionist Union.
Spokesmen for both Netanyahu and Herzog firmly denied that they met, calling the report nonsense. But sources familiar with the particulars of the meeting said the spokesmen were purposely left in the dark.
Likud officials reported making progress with three parties that would have no problem sitting in a coalition with the Zionist Union: Kulanu, Shas and United Torah Judaism. But Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked left a three-hour meeting with the Likud’s team at the Knesset and said there was “absolutely nothing to report” from the coalition talks.
“We have made important progress during the coalition negotiations regarding our demand to increase the salary and benefits of our soldiers, [but] on other matters, we are still stuck,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.
A source in Kulanu revealed that, besides a successful fourhour meeting between party leader Moshe Kahlon and Netanyahu Sunday night, there have also been secret meetings between the prime minister’s lawyer, David Shimron, and Kulanu representatives.
Likud officials said that after a four-hour meeting with Shas’s negotiating team Monday and another meeting set for Tuesday with United Torah Judaism, it might be possible to finalize agreements by this weekend with both those parties and Kulanu.
But Kulanu officials said the forthcoming observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day makes that goal difficult to achieve.
The main sticking point preventing a deal remains whether the Interior Ministry’s Building Planning Committee will be controlled by Kulanu or Shas. Various solutions have been discussed, including giving Shas leader Arye Deri an enhanced socioeconomic portfolio that would include the Economy and Negev and Galilee Development ministries, instead of Interior, which thousands of Israelis have objected to given Deri’s bribery conviction and prison term.
Netanyahu has met four times in the past two weeks with Deri to reach a solution, including a late meeting Sunday night. Another portfolio in dispute is Religious Affairs, which has been claimed by Shas, Bayit Yehudi, and United Torah Judaism, but may end up going to a Likud minister with two deputies and a director-general from the three parties.
The Likud has received permission from its prospective coalition partners to expand the next cabinet beyond the 18 ministers currently permitted by law.
“There is nothing holy about the number 18,” Shimron said.
“It wasn’t written on [Moses’s] tablets. The law was passed two years ago due to the coalition talks. It can be changed again.”