Renewed Pressure to Add Zionist Union to Netanyahu's Coalition Focuses on Livni

If terms that are acceptable to Livni can be found, the move could be carried out soon, source says; Habayit Hayehudi could end up paying the price.

Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at the Knesset last year.
Olivier Fitoussi

A senior coalition source said on Thursday that attempts to add the Zionist Union to the coalition have been renewed. People close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are pressuring in recent days faction co-leader Tzipi Livni, one of the prominent objectors to the move, in an attempt to persuade her to join the government.

A source in Netanyahu's Likud estimates that if terms that are acceptable to Livni can be found, the move could be carried out very soon. Sources in the Labor Party also estimated on Thursday that Zionist Union co-leader and Labor chairman Isaac Herzog would find it difficult to enter the government if Livni doesn’t join him. According to a Likud source, officials close to Netanyahu considered turning the tables and offering Livni the foreign affairs portfolio in exchange only for her five Hatnua lawmakers joining the coalition, but the offer didn’t come to fruition.  

A Habayit Hayehudi source said his party could pay the price. "Netanyahu is plotting to remove Habayit Hayehudi from the coalition and is therefore so eager to bring in the Zionist Union," he said.

Until recently, Netanyahu insisted not to harm Habayit Hayehudi in the efforts to expand the government, since without its support the coalition would depend on Herzog's support, and that he could bring to its disbanding.

The latest confrontation between Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and the bad blood between the two may bring to Netanyahu changing his mind. It's unclear whether Netanyahu would work toward dismissing the party's ministers, or whether he would wait for their resignation against the backdrop of political and diplomatic disagreements between Herzog and Bennett.

Sources in the Likud and the Zionist Union see a resignation of Habayit Hayehudi's ministers as a move that would significantly ease the case of Herzog joining the government and his ability to explain the move to the public. The Zionist Union would want to receive the justice portfolio – now in the hands of Habayit Hayehudi – and receiving the portfolio may soften the Zionist Union leadership's objections to enter the government. However, Likud sources clarified that while the education and agriculture portfolios may be given to the Zionist Union, the justice portfolio will remain in Netanyahu's hands. The economy portfolio may be given to the Zionist Union.

Members of Habyit Hayehudi are preparing for the possibility that party will find itself outside of the coalition in the near future due to the joining of the Zionist Union or due to a change in the coalition's diplomatic line. Party chairman Naftali Bennett said Thursday evening that if his party will not be pushed out of the coalition, he might consider resigning.

Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have suggested in recent days that a major diplomatic breakthrough is being promoted by players in the region. On Wednesday, Kahlon called on Herzog to join the government, urging him "not to miss the historic window of opportunity that has been created."

A source close to Netanyahu said that the plan to bring in Herzog to the coalition at this stage also includes an effort to convince Labor lawmakers and its supporters that it's appropriate that Labor hold the reins in the diplomatic process being promoted behind the scenes with the Egyptian president.

A senior Labor official confirmed to Haaretz a few days ago that Herzog wasn’t ruling out joining the government at the moment, and that he intends on reviewing the move in coming weeks.

MK Shelly Yacimovich estimated on Thursday morning that Herzog is continuing work to join the coalition.

"I'm really not sure that there isn’t anyone calculating the steps ahead of another round in this known farce," she said on Army Radio. "I really really hope that we're not getting into this farce again. I'll do everything to stop such a miserable move."

Signs that the move to add the Zionist Union to the government is still on the table grew in recent days. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon publicly called on Herzog to join the coalition. Netanyahu even clarified in a speech to the Knesset plenum that he's holding on to the foreign affairs portfolio and other portfolios ahead of the party's possible entrance to the coalition.

In the meanwhile, the past few weeks have seen a real weakening in the Zionist Union lawmakers' opposition to joining the government.

"Had I been familiar with the points of understanding Herzog reached with Netanyahu, which he revealed when the negotiations blew up, I wouldn’t have come out publicly against the move as I did, but I would have been the first to join the government," said one Zionist Union lawmaker.

Another lawmaker said that "there's no doubt that most of the party would join Herzog and enter the coalition if a similar offer is made again." He added, "Following the initial shock of the possibility that we join Netanyahu, there's now a recovery and calculation of the benefits that joining the government would entail."

The Zionist Union responded that "the Likud and Kahlon can forget about us legitimizing the bad ways of the government of Netanyahu and his natural partners. We oppose its ways and won't enter this government."