Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been negotiating for the opposition Zionist Union party to join his governing coalition, but the launch of an investigation into primary financing involving party leader Isaac Herzog keeps the faction out, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Wednesday.
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"The prime minister was prepared to, and wanted" to have Zionist Union join the government, Kahlon said. "But the recent events distanced him from that," he added, in remarks to a Bar Association conference in Eilat.
"When the investigation was made public they (the Zionist Union) were about to join the government," Kahlon said. "It turned out that Herzog and Netanyahu were holding talks on joining the government and the investigation just distanced it. My political assessment is that the first party that needs to join the coalition is the Labor (Zionist Union)."
A senior member of Zionist Union said Kahlon's comments mainly reflected wishful thinking on his part and insisted that while there had been political contacts they never developed into full-fledged negotiations.
Officials in both Likud and Zionist Union denied the sides had come close to a coalition deal.
Labor party officials say the chances of joining Netanyahu's government are small. "All the reports about entering the coalition were not more than a lot of confusion."
In Likud, a senior official said: "As opposed to Kahlon's remarks, the Labor party (Zionist Union's main party) was not about to join the government and therefore the examination against Herzog didn’t distance the party from the coalition."
In his speech, Kahlon also lashed out against Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's criticism of a high court ruling last month against a government plan for developing natural gas reserves.
"I do not support Ayelet Shaked's comments," Kahlon said.
"Any decision can be criticized from an economic aspect but the court has a job. It is supposed to do justice and its decision must be honored. You can't just say that the court is hurting the Israeli economy. That isn't right," Kahlon said.
Attacks on the legal system weaken it, Kahlon added.
"The court's situation today isn't what it was 20 years ago. It should be critiqued but when you attack it, you hurt yourself. The Supreme Court is the last address for the weak. Those who seek to damage it are the powerful people, when it gets in their way."
Shaked had accused the court on Monday of exceeding its authority and intervening in issues that should be left to the Knesset and the government.
"Once again the Supreme Court has turned itself into a venue for arbitrating on purely political and macroeconomic questions," she said.
Relating yet to another controversy, Kahlon, a member of the judicial appointments committee, took issue with Shaked's vow that in 2017, when four justices retire, she would seek to have them replaced by conservatives.
Kahlon asserted that the justice minister doesn't have the prerogative of making that choice.
"She has one vote on the committee and cannot just choose whoever she wants. I think there needs to be a range of justices, of all types. You can't just pick one type. I believe the answer and remedy for all the rifts and tensions is broad diversification," Kahlon said.
Referring to the expected appointments of four new Supreme Court judges in 2017, Shaked said that she wants judges that will protect the power and prestige of the Supreme Court, "but not at the expense of weakening the Knesset’s and government’s ability to act on political matters that do not violate human rights.”