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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend a news conference announcing the appointment of the new Bank of Israel Governor, in Jerusalem, October 9, 2018.(Photo by: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Likud-Kulanu merger looking less likely
Netanyahu is interested in a merger between his Likud and Kahlon’s Kulanu parties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon will hold a long-awaited meeting at Netanyahu’s residence in Caesarea on Thursday.

Netanyahu is interested in a merger between his Likud and Kahlon’s Kulanu parties. Such an agreement would raise the Likud from the 35 seats the party won in the April 9 election to 39 – or 38 if, as expected, MK Eli Ben-Dahan goes back to the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP).

But sources close to Kahlon said the chances of a merger have fallen in the past two weeks, and that if Netanyahu raises the issue, he will not receive a positive answer.

Kahlon is expected to request that he remain finance minister and that Kulanu MK Eli Cohen retain the economy and industry portfolio. But Netanyahu could tell Kahlon that his party would receive neither post if the merger does not take place.

Netanyahu had offered Kahlon 10 reserved slots on the Likud list if he would have merged the parties before the election, in which Kulanu fell from 10 seats to four. Now he will at best receive 10% representation in the Likud central committee and other party institutions.

Likud negotiating team chairman Yariv Levin has asked all the potential coalition partners to send in their demands over the next few days, before coalition negotiations begin in earnest next Monday.

KAN reported Wednesday night that URP co-chairman Bezalel Smotrich met on Monday with United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader Ya’acov Litzman’s spiritual mentor – Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter – and told him that on matters of religion and state, their two parties would be completely aligned. In the past, Bayit Yehudi, which is part of URP, sparred often with UTJ and Shas on religious issues.

In a further restraint on Netanyahu’s effort to build a coalition by the May 29 deadline, former Shas chairman Eli Yishai is demanding a portfolio. Yishai revealed to Channel 13 that he had made a deal with the prime minister ahead of the election that if his Yahad Party quit the race, endorsed UTJ and helped the party gain an eighth Knesset seat, he would be a minister. UTJ did indeed win eight seats.
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