Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Thursday evening to update him on ongoing negotiations to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition and expand it to the 66 MKs that there would be following the departure from the party of MK Orly Levy-Abecassis.
Netanyahu told Ya’alon he would lose the Defense portfolio to Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman when a deal is reached, but that an agreement had not yet been completed.
Sources close to Netanyahu said he was leaning toward compensating Ya’alon with the Foreign Affairs portfolio, but that he had not yet made a final decision. Advisers to Netanyahu have told him not to give Ya’alon the job because it would build him up as a future rival.
Ya’alon’s associates said he had not decided whether to accept the Foreign Ministry if offered.
“Nothing is clear yet,” a Ya’alon associate said. “We will apparently know in the next two or three days.”
In his first comments since his apparent ouster from the Defense Ministry at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ya’alon made a thinly veiled jab at Netanyahu, saying: “[There has been] a loss of moral direction on basic ethical questions,” and too many decisions are being made based on how the wind was blowing, rather than based on conscience.
Likud activists loyal to Ya’alon urged him to reject the foreign minister job and build himself as an alternative to Netanyahu within the party.
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In an interview with Channel 10, Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog said he wanted his party to be joined by Ya’alon and Levy-Abecassis, who decided to quit Yisrael Beytenu because Liberman had not sought enough funding for the poor in coalition talks.
In the talks, Likud agreed to give Yisrael Beytenu the Defense and Immigrant Absorption portfolios, a Knesset chairmanship and a deputy Knesset speaker post. The coalition will support giving the death penalty to terrorists and fund pensions for more immigrants and more mortgage discounts for young couples.
Officials taking part in the coalition talks said the Finance Ministry was preventing a deal by questioning how Yisrael Beytenu’s pet projects would be funded.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, leading the negotiations for the Likud, said at the opening of Thursday’s meeting that talks were being renewed after the two sides had met on Wednesday night.
The Likud minister said the talks were positive, and called Yisrael Beytenu’s entry into the coalition “a natural move that will strengthen Israel.”
Both Levin and Liberman agreed that every effort would be made to finish the talks as quickly as possible.
Coalition partner Bayit Yehudi said it would not ask for the Foreign Ministry and is content to remain with the portfolios it already has.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett met with Liberman at the Knesset Thursday to coordinate strategy.
Netanyahu’s decision to bring Liberman into the coalition ended talks he had been having in recent weeks with Isaac Herzog to bring his Zionist Union party into a unity government.
Levin told Army Radio on Thursday morning that there had been two negotiation tracks the whole time.
Coalition partner Moshe Kahlon, chairman of the Kulanu party, welcomed the pending addition of Yisrael Beytenu to the coalition, calling on critics to judge Liberman by his actions.
“Expanding the government was essential,” Kahlon said, adding that the government had been working to widen the narrow 61-seat coalition since its inception.
Speaking at a Kulanu faction meeting in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, he said he was sorry efforts to bring the Zionist Union into the coalition had not worked out, but that from his conversations with Liberman and Netanyahu, he was certain that Yisrael Beytenu joining was set to be finalized.
Addressing criticism of Liberman’s pending appointment to serve as defense minister, Kahlon said, “I reject disqualifying people personally and believe they have to be judged on their actions.”
Kahlon added, however, that the government had been formed on the basis of adherence to the rule of law, and he would insist that this principle be maintained with the addition of Liberman to the coalition. Also on Thursday, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) criticized Netanyahu for tapping Liberman to serve in the coalition over her co-party leader, Herzog.
“History will not forgive Netanyahu for what he has done to Israel,” she wrote on Facebook.
“When Netanyahu needed to choose between moderate and extreme, democracy and nationalism, between peace and isolation and between security deterioration – he chose what was comfortable for him politically, the extreme Right,” Livni said.
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