National Union gives Netanyahu an empty threat

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu intends to form a razor-thin coalition of 61 MKs next week unless the National Union faction eases its demands in a meeting with the Likud's coalition negotiating team on Friday. In an interview with Israel Radio Thursday morning, National Union chairman Ya'acov Katz continued to insist on receiving the Construction and Housing portfolio, even though it was promised to Shas in October. Katz warned that if he did not receive the portfolio and Habayit Hayehudi the Education Ministry, neither party would join the coalition, leaving Netanyahu without a majority. "Netanyahu doesn't have 61 MKs without both of us," Katz said. Katz said he had coordinated his efforts against Likud with Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Herschkowitz, who later confirmed on the radio that they were coordinating strategies. But later in the day, the Habayit Hayehudi faction met and forced Herschkowitz to deny conspiring with Katz against Netanyahu and make clear that Habayit Hayehudi would join the coalition even if the National Union remained outside. "I am happy that the National Union supports our efforts to obtain the Education portfolio, but we are different and independent parties, and that applies to our negotiations against the Likud," Herschkowitz said. Sources in Habayit Hayehudi accused Katz of manipulating Herschkowitz in order to issue an empty threat against Netanyahu. "We decided against a civil union with Ketzaleh," Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev said, referring to Katz by his nickname. "We don't have to tie ourselves to National Union. They tried to use us, and I don't trust them." Orlev said Habayit Hayehudi would not be satisfied with the Science, Culture and Sport portfolio earmarked for Herschkowitz, but admitted that his party would be pragmatic. National Union MK Arye Eldad responded that Herschkowitz was being led astray by Orlev, whom he accused of working against his own party leader. The Shas newspaper Yom Leyom quoted Netanyahu telling confidants on Thursday that he would build a coalition of 61 MKs and that he was concerned it would not last long if Labor or Kadima did not join at a later stage.