gideon saar 248.88.
(photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
The National Union and Habayit Hayehudi factions began coalition talks with the Likud on Thursday at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel in what all three said had been a positive spirit of cooperation.
The head of the Likud's negotiating team, MK Gideon Sa'ar, said at the start of the meetings with both factions that he did not expect problems. The meetings took place a day after significant differences arose in the party's talks with Israel Beiteinu and Shas.
"They will be part of the coalition, with God's help," Sa'ar said regarding his religious Zionist counterparts. "We hope they don't give us a hard time. There are different levels of difficulty and we hope this will be relatively easy."
Sa'ar's words proved an understatement when it became clear that neither National Union nor Habayit Hayehudi would make problematic demands regarding policies or portfolios.
Habayit Hayehudi asked for the Education portfolio for party chairman Daniel Herschkowitz, and a deputy ministerial post for MK Zevulun Orlev at the finance, interior or social welfare ministries. But party officials admitted they did not expect Herschkowitz to be given such a plum portfolio for a faction with just three seats.
The party requested that Herschkowitz also be put in charge of the government's relationship with the Diaspora, the fight against anti-Semitism and the treatment of evacuees from the Gaza Strip's Gush Katif bloc.
On matters of policy, the party asked for natural growth to be allowed in West Bank settlements, the cancellation of fees at schools, a multiyear plan to bridge gaps between the rich and poor and funding for organizations working to build bridges between the religious and the secular.
The Likud is not expected to oppose any of these requests.
Coalition talks with the National Union are expected to be even easier because its leaders, Ya'akov Katz and Uri Ariel, have reportedly decided to ask only for deputy ministerial posts.
Katz reportedly decided against a cabinet position because he had signed a pre-election agreement requiring him to resign as an MK should he become a minister. This would allow the candidate occupying the fifth spot on the party's list, Uri Bank, to enter the Knesset.
Serving as a deputy minister would allow Katz to remain an MK. He will request to be deputy defense minister with authority over settlements in the West Bank.
As part of the same pre-election deal, Bank's Moledet wing agreed that the party could use the name National Union. It also turned over the funding it had received for its two MKs in the previous Knesset, which amounted to half of the National Union's campaign budget. If Katz remains an MK, it will be the first time since 1988 that Moledet is not represented in the Knesset, and it could end up folding.
Without the Chicago-born, Detroit-raised Bank, the Knesset will continue to lack an immigrant from an English-speaking country - at a time when, according to Katz, Israel is bracing for a massive upsurge in immigration from the US due to the economic crisis.
"It would be wise of [Katz] to allow Anglos to have an address in the Knesset that they can go to," said Beit Shemesh city councilman Shalom Lerner, who is in charge of absorption for the city and ran for Knesset with the Likud.
Katz refused to talk to The Jerusalem Post, saying, "I cannot talk now; call back in another month."