Likud Threatens Coalition Deal With ultra-Orthodox First if Kulanu Isn't Flexible

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Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon at the entrance to the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 23, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party has stiffened its demands in the coalition negotiations with Likud and its unwillingness to be show flexibility could well lead Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign coalition agreements with other parties first.

“We wanted Kulanu to be the first party with which we signed,” said a senior Likud official. “It is only natural that Moshe Kahlon, who is expected to be Finance Minister, would be involved in our economic agreements with other parties. But Kulanu’s negotiating team does not understand this and is not being flexible in its demands.

"In such a situation, we certainly do not intend to wait for them and will sign agreements with the Haredi parties and Yisrael Beiteinu. That means Kahlon will discover only after the fact what financial commitments we are making [to the other parties] — and they are numerous.”

There was no significant progress Wednesday in the meeting between the Likud and Kulanu negotiating teams, though both sides reported that the atmosphere was good. Kulanu is still insisting that all its demands be met. On Wednesday, it released the list of portfolios it is demanding: In addition to the Finance Ministry, Kulanu wants the Housing and Environmental Protection ministries, along with the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and control over both the Israel Lands Authority and the planning administration. Likud says the list is excessive.

Likud sources do not expect Shas chairman Arye Dery, who is expected to be appointed Interior Minister, to agree to give up the planning administration, which falls under his ministry.

The demand for the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee is viewed by Likud as a demand Kahlon added to his list in order to have something he can compromise on. “The Finance Committee will be in the hands of Moshe Gafni from UTJ,” said Likud sources. They added that there were clear understandings on the issue and that there had been contacts between Kahlon and Gafni to approve the appointment. IT was not clear why Kulanu was continuing to insist on it “and not to make progress already,” said the Likud officials.

Likud negotiators also met Wednesday with Yisrael Beiteinu — a meeting which Yisrael Beiteinu said was devoted to discussing the founding principles of the next government.

Habayit Hayehudi made it clear Wednesday — once again — that there had been no progress in negotiations with Likud about joining the new government. Another meeting between the two parties is planned for Thursday.

Even though Habayit Hayehudi thinks Likud wants to form a unity government with the Zionist Union, the feeling within the Zionist Union is that such a deal is very unlikely. There are two clear conditions for the Zionist Union to agree to risk joining a Netanyahu government, said a source in the Zionist Union. The first is that the coalition not include Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi and that it be based on the principle of two states for two peoples.

The second condition is that Likud come up with a surprisingly good package of positions and honors that would make it difficult for the party’s voters to object. “Since there is no chance these two conditions will be fulfilled, there is really no chance of forming a unity government,” the source said.

The United Torah Judaism negotiating team is expected to meet again with Likud Thursday. The Haredi party has made it clear to the Likud team that it will not negotiate at all next week during the week-long Passover holiday. That is expected to delay final agreements, though both Kulanu and Likud have expressed willingness to meet next week to bridge their differences.

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