Likud Won't Give Up Demand for Key Portfolios, Urges Potential Partners to Lower Expectations

Rivlin on Netanyahu's 'Arabs voting in droves' remark: Everyone must be careful; Herzog is the right man to lead - but he will do so from opposition.

Likud representatives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem
Likud representatives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 22, 2015. Olivier Fitoussi

President Reuven Rivlin began consultations on Sunday with Likud and other parties to determine who he would appoint to form the next government. Well more than 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset are expected to recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next coalition. Rivlin has said he wants a national unity government, but the results of last week’s election have made this possibility seem highly unlikely.

On Sunday, Rivlin met with representatives of Likud, Zionist Union, the Joint List of Arab parties, Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, and two ultra-Orthodox parties: Shas and United Torah Judaism. On Monday he will consult with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and left-wing party Meretz.

5:14 P.M. President Rivlin met with lawmakers from the United Torah Judaism party on Sunday and asked them if they would support a broader Netanyahu-led coalition than the one that appears to be coalescing.

"The diplomatic issues and pressures that Israel will face from its close friends in Europe and the U.S. in the next term necessitate a broad government that will have the public's support," Rivlin said, hinting at the possibility of the ultra-Orthodox party joining a government that includes Yesh Atid. That faction, led by Yair Lapid, waged a campaign against the ultra-Orthodox to have them share the "burden" of living in Israel by serving in the army and working and cutting their benefits.

United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman and MKs Moshe Gafni and Meir Porush rejected that proposal. Gafni said that there are parties they would refuse to join in the coalition. Litzman conditioned the party's joining a unity government on advance knowledge of its members. "Lapid humiliated us and hit us," he said. "There is no reason for us to be friends. You wouldn't want friends like that and neither would I."

Litzman earlier told Rivlin that his party would recommend Netanyahu for prime minister. "It's no secret we endured two very difficult years with the previous government," he said. "In addition to the damage to religious issues, there was also harm done to the weak and to the child stipends. We hope the next government is more socially minded."

Litzman added that he hopes to be able to "help the weak and the outer regions of the country, and that the government lasts for a full term. That doesn’t go without saying."
 

4:05 P.M. Shas has recommended Prime Minister Netanyahu to forge the next coalition, telling President Rivlin that Netanyahu knows the terms that are necessary to receive the party's support.

Shas chairman Arye Dery has established a committee to negotiate the party's terms for entry into the coalition with the Likud.

MK Yitzhak Cohen told the president, "Throughout this campaign we have said we would recommend Netanyahu and we are recommending Netanyahu. Prime Minister Netanyahu also knows that our condition for joining the government is agreeing to our socioeconomic plan."

3:34 P.M. Habayit Hayehudi representatives met with President Rivlin and recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form Israel's next coalition. MK Ayelet Shaked said, "I expect and believe that the prime minister will fulfill his obligation to the voters and establish a strong and stable national government. It is important for us to determine, first of all, that the government's guidelines match the ideology of Habayit Hayehudi and will include the 'NGO transparency law,' regulation of construction in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and development in the Golan."

2:36 P.M. Likud members Yariv Levin and Silvan Shalom on Sunday ratcheted up the rhetoric against their party's possible coalition partners, saying the Likud must keep the foreign and defense portfolios. They also suggested that possible coalition partners should lower their expectations regarding ministerial portfolios.

"Likud, as the largest party with 30 Knesset seats, must hold onto not just key positions in the diplomatic and defense arenas, but also key social portfolios so as to best be able to address all of the issues we promised to during the campaign," said Levin. He added that a stable coalition that can govern for four years must be formed without delay.

Shalom also touched on the issue in an interview with Army Radio this morning, saying possible coalition partners were making demands "as though they were the ones to get 30 seats and not us." He added, "They need to face reality and understand which party is leading and which is the largest. Obviously they need to be more modest."

1:20 P.M.: Rivlin on Sunday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks about Arab voters going out to vote in "droves" on Election Day, saying heed must be taken with all remarks like that. The president's residence, he said on all Israeli citizens to go out and vote.

In his meeting with representatives of the Joint List, he said, "Everyone must be careful with their remarks, particularly those who are heard around the world."

"We experienced a turbulent, impassioned campaign," said Rivlin. "We heard Jews say harsh things about the Arab public. We cannot ignore equally harsh remarks from the Arab side. There is no room for such comments. We share one reality in the state in which we all live, and citizens cannot discriminate against one another."
Riveln went on to say, "Israel is defined as a Jewish state, and we cannot forget that it is democratic at the same time. I call on Jews and my Arab brothers to avoid incitement. It's clear that remarks from a head of state are heard differently and more clearly than someone else."

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told Rivlin he does not recommend Netanyahu form the next government. When pressed, he and MK Jamal Zahalka said they would consider supporting Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog if Rivlin asks him to forge a coalition.

1:07 P.M.: The Likud representatives that met with Rivlin were Zeev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Gilad Erdan, Yariv Levin and Yisrael Katz.

Likud chairman Elkin said that they recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Likud representative to form the coalition. "We share the president's view that the people have spoken," Elkin said, adding, "the election this time around was personal to a great extent with the attempt to say 'just not Bibi,' and the public said, 'yes Bibi [Netanyahu].'"

Erdan addressed the controversy over Netanyahu's remarks about the number of Arabs headed to the polls, saying, "We spoke to the president about our obligation to minorities, and we regret the incorrect interpretation of Netanyahu's comments. Israel is a democratic state, everyone knows that. We are proud of that and of the fact that the Central Elections Committee chairman is an Arab judge."

Levin, meanwhile, said he "regretted that the Arab population in Israel largely chose to support a list that conceded in advance its part in decision-making. Despite this, we are committed to creating a government that will care for all of Israel's citizens."

11:41 A.M. In his meeting with Zionist Union representatives, Rivlin told them, "As we democrats all know, the voter has spoken quite clearly in this election. I congratulate you, the Zionist Union, on your great achievement. You won a great deal of the public's faith and will have to speak for them in the Knesset."

MK Eitan Cabel told Rivlin that party leader Isaac Herzog is the right man to lead at this time, but that he will do so from the opposition. "We will lead the opposition headed by Herzog," he said. "There is no doubt the Zionist Union scored an impressive achievement, but unfortunately the prime minister's achievement was greater."

10 A.M. "In a democracy, it's the majority that decides – and the majority expressed its desire very clearly in these elections," President Reuven Rivlin said, as he opened the consultations, meeting first with representatives from Likud. "The president's job following election is to serve as the trustee of the public, to set into motion the process of creating a government as quickly and transparently as possible."

"We've been through and stormy and passionate election season – this is the time to begin the process of fusing and healing Israeli society," Rivlin added. "The government that will be formed was chosen by the majority of Israel's citizens – but it will have to answer to all of Israel's citizens."