Rivlin Launches Coalition Talks: Israel's Next Government Must Answer to All Citizens

President to meet with party representatives for two days, ahead of choosing who will form government; Netanyahu might be generous with small parties in bid to assure quiet in coalition.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

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.

"In a democracy, it's the majority that decides – and the majority expressed its desire very clearly in these elections," Rivlin said, as he opened the consultations at 10 A.M., 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."

Rivlin has said he wants a national unity government, but the results of last week’s election have made this possibility seem highly unlikely.

“Netanyahu was very afraid that Rivlin wouldn’t appoint him to form the government, so he opposed Rivlin’s election as president only a few months ago,” a Likud source told Haaretz. “The unambiguous result of the election has erased this fear and also the possibility of pressure to form a national unity government.”

The consultations are to last for two days. On Sunday Rivlin met with representatives of Likud, Zionist Union and will later meet with 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.

In his meeting with Zionist Union representatives late Sunday morning, Rivlin said: "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."

Labor 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."

Yisrael Beiteinu MKs are meeting on Sunday to decide whether to recommend Netanyahu to the president.

Kulanu said on Saturday evening it would recommend that Netanyahu form the next government. It did not take a position during the election campaign, waiting to see whether Likud or Zionist Union came out on top.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, will officially present Rivlin with the election results. Only then will Netanyahu launch official coalition talks.

The parties are said to be studying options for alliances along the lines of the deal struck in 2013 between Yesh Atid’s Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi’s Bennett. That alliance forced Netanyahu to bring right-wing Habayit Hayehudi into the coalition.

Shas chief Arye Dery met separately Thursday with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman and Yisrael Beiteinu chief Lieberman. Meanwhile, various politicians are said to be exploring contacts with Kahlon about alliances.

But sources in Kulanu said the party did not intend to take part in efforts to form political alliances and would tell Likud’s negotiating team it was not a 100-percent bet to join the government.

Sources in Likud said the Finance Ministry would go to Kahlon, but it was still unclear whether Netanyahu would give the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry to his political partners Lieberman and Bennett respectively, instead of to senior members of his own party.

“There’s no reason for Netanyahu to give senior ministries to Lieberman, who won only six seats, and to Bennett, who crashed to eight from 12 in the 2013 election," a Likud source said. “They have to understand that their strength is not as great as it was and that the public showed great faith in Likud, so it should hold the key.”

But another source in Likud said Netanyahu could achieve a long and tranquil term “if he gives senior posts to his partners who know there’s no real reason that they should hold those posts in light of their failure in the election. Tactically, it’s preferable for us to forgo the foreign and defense ministries.”

One way or another Lieberman, who wants the defense ministry, could remain foreign minister. He is also expected to ask for the Absorption Ministry for his party — the current minister is Yisrael Beiteinu’s Sofa Landver. He may also request the Social Affairs Ministry for the party’s Orly Levi-Abekasis.

Bennett and at least three currently serving ministers are expected to vie for the Foreign Ministry: Likud’s Gilad Erdan, Yuval Steinitz and Silvan Shalom. Bennett is also expected to ask that Habayit Hayehudi receive the Housing and Construction Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Shas’ Dery is likely to ask for the Interior Ministry; he is also believed to want a Shas man as deputy finance minister.

United Torah Judaism, which has said its members will not serve as ministers, is expected to ask that Litzman be appointed deputy health minister, and for the party’s Meir Porush to be appointed a deputy minister. United Torah Judaism also wants the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Sources in Likud said the Public Security Ministry would probably be given to Kulanu, with Kulanu’s No. 2 Yoav Galant as the minister. Another possibility is to appoint Habayit Hayehudi’s Ayelet Shaked to that post. Shaked has reportedly expressed an interest in it.

All the current ministers, except for Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, are expected to continue to serve in the cabinet, with some requesting more senior ministries than they now hold. If there are still empty slots, Netanyahu may move MKs up to ministerial positions. Livnat has already announced her retirement.

Some members of Netanyahu’s inner circle may be in line for promotions, including MKs Zeev Elkin, deputy ministers Ofir Akunis and Tzachi Hanegbi, Likud Central Committee Chairman Danny Danon, and MKs Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev, the latter to increase female representation in the cabinet.

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