Kahlon Boycotts Talks With Likud Over Posts Earmarked for ultra-Orthodox Parties

Kulanu leader wants Knesset Finance Committee and Planning Administration to promote series of reforms central to his election campaign.

Rami Shlush

Media spins, mutual recriminations and bloated funding demands were the hallmarks of the first day of coalition talks on Thursday. Representatives of four of Likud’s five expected partners in the new government came to the Knesset for meetings, but discussions revolved not around the distribution of ministerial portfolios, but around the future government’s guidelines. “It’s clear to everyone that the real negotiations don’t take place here but behind the scenes among the parties’ leaders,” a senior member of one of teams said.

Moshe Kahlon, chairman of Kulanu, on Thursday ordered his team not to attend the meeting with Likud’s team in protest against media reports that the Knesset Finance Committee and the Planning Administration – two bodies that Kahlon is seeking for Kulanu to promote a series of reforms – are to be given to United Torah Judaism and Shas. Sources in Kulanu accused Likud of “handing out positions at the expense of the tools needed to bring down housing prices and the cost of living, even before the negotiating teams have met.”

Likud, seemingly unfazed by Kahlon’s muscle-flexing said: “How did Kahlon turn a debate over the chairmanship of the Finance Committee, which should be held around the negotiating table, into a boycott of the discussions and into his PR person telling the media that this was corruption of the talks?”

Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) asked: “That’s the way a senior coalition partner behaves who is meant to lead the Israeli economy”?

Another senior Likud figure said the past few days have seen the start of understandings between Kulanu and United Torah Judaism that would allow UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni to be appointed chairman of the Finance Committee in exchange for promoting Kahlon’s reforms in the committee.

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Economy Minister Naftali Bennett warned yesterday that Likud was working to establish a government with Zionist Union and that under those circumstances his faction would head for the opposition. Sources in Likud said Thursday that among the three portfolios Bennett wanted – defense, education and religious affairs — he would receive only education, and two other ministries that have not yet been decided.

Bennett met Thursday with Netanyahu in an unsuccessful attempt to move coalition talks ahead, the second meeting between the two. According to sources in the party, in a status Bennett posted on his Facebook page before the meeting with Netanyahu he wrote: “Unfortunately it looks like the prime minister intends to bring in Bougie/Tzipi and skip us over,” referring to Zionist Union co-leaders MKs Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. “He also went back on his statement not to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state and is entirely renouncing his national obligations. If that be the case, we can serve the people of Israel in a way no less influential from the opposition,” Bennett wrote on Facebook.

Herzog responded quickly to claims that he might negotiate over joining the Netanyahu government by saying that his party “is not a pawn in the race to destroy the State of Israel that Bennett and Bibi [Netanyahu] are running. Bennett is whining and threatening to go to the opposition, all to squeeze another settlement, another budget for an organization of his associates, a ministerial position through which he will put the interests of the State of Israel at risk.”

Herzog said Zionist Union would be a “fighting opposition, strong in the face of a dangerous government that will make the international isolation worse, deepen poverty and inequality, continue to spread fear and destroy any chance for a diplomatic horizon in the years to come.”

Habayit Hayehudi’s negotiating team on Thursday demanded that the bill to limit foreign donations to non-profit associations be made part of the government’s guidelines. In a new version of the bill, formulated by MK Ayelet Shaked and made public earlier this week, a significant change has been made so that an NGO that asks for tax-free status on contributions from foreign countries will have to obtain the approval of the defense minister, the foreign minister and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Likud MK Yariv Levin said that on Thursday’s talks with Habayit Hayehudi were “good and productive.”

Shas on Thursday demanded three conditions: raising minimum wage, lowering VAT on basic products and expanding public housing.