Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog met Sunday night in Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem to try to closes the gaps between them and advance Zionist Union’s entry into the governing coalition.
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While Herzog’s associates claimed that the talks hadn’t made progress, Netanyahu, in various conversations he had on Monday, expressed optimism about being able to wrap up the process in the near future. “I met with the prime minister today and he told me that the contacts regarding [a] unity [government] are proceeding. He is serious about expanding the government,” said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is considered Netanyahu’s confidant on this issue.
The meeting, which was first reported by Channel 2, was long and came after weeks during which the two hadn’t met face to face. Herzog asked for a significant improvement in the offers that had been made so far so that he could persuade party colleagues to join him.
A coalition source told Haaretz, “We’re not talking only about ideological issues, but also about jobs. Herzog isn’t happy with the portfolios he’s meant to get and is asking that his party get either justice, communications, or culture. The ministers holding these positions are considered red flags from the left’s perspective and removing Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev or Netanyahu himself from these portfolios would be considered a significant achievement. But I didn’t get the impression that Netanyahu plans to give in on this.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett made it clear that his Habayit Hayehudi party would leave the coalition if party colleague Shaked lost the justice portfolio to Zionist Union.
Herzog, meanwhile, has also demanded to be involved in drawing up the natural gas framework and that a series of controversial bills be taken off the agenda.
Zionist Union MKs who have met Herzog over the past few days say he is hiding the details of the pending agreement with Netanyahu and has refused to tell them what portfolios or other achievements will be part of it. “Bougie [Herzog] didn’t show me the agreement or give me details when we met, nor did he speak about the portfolios to be transferred to the party,” said a Zionist Union member. “He spoke in general terms – too general – about the importance of the move. It looks as if he is busy trying to change the attitude toward the move and less with recruiting MKs to support it.”
Herzog made a very vague reference to an “opportunity,” when he met with members of the party’s “Rabin camp” to discuss the issue. “I am identifying a rare regional diplomatic opportunity that may pass and not return,” he said. “I’m not saying this out of nowhere, but from knowledge. It’s incomparably complex. I don’t know if it will happen, but it could happen solely because of the change in the government structure.”
MK Yoel Hasson, a member of Hatnua (the party led by Tzipi Livni), which merged with Labor to form Zionist Union, said that he categorically refuses to serve as a government minister. “I’ll be honest, I want to be a minister, that’s clear,” he wrote to his party colleagues, but added that if Labor joined the coalition, it would be the end of the alliance between the two factions. “My Hatnua colleagues and I won’t join this disastrous Likud government,” he wrote.
A sheer drop
Meanwhile, polls released last night found that Zionist Union would lose between seven and 11 Knesset seats if new elections were held today, while Yesh Atid would almost double its Knesset representation, according to two television polls released Monday night.
The polls also found that a majority of the public opposes having Zionist Union join the government – a move that party leader Isaac Herzog has recently been discussing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The first poll, commissioned by Channel 10, found that if elections were held today, Likud would lose five of the 30 seats it currently holds. Yesh Atid would rise from 11 to 20 seats, while Zionist Union would plummet from 24 seats to just 13.
Channel 2’s poll showed similar but less dramatic results. It found that Likud would shrink by only three seats, to 27, while Yesh Atid would rise by only seven seats, to 18. Zionist Union would receive 17 seats, a drop of only seven, rather than the 11-seat drop predicted by Channel 10.
The Channel 2 poll also found that Habayit Hayehudi would win 10 seats, up from eight currently, while Yisrael Beiteinu would win nine seats, up from six today. Kulanu would shrink from 10 to seven seats, United Torah Judaism would rise from six to seven, and Shas and Meretz would get six seats each – a drop of one for Shas and a gain of one for Meretz. The Joint Arab List would remain unchanged at 13.
The polls also surveyed the public’s attitude toward a unity government. Channel 10’s poll, conducted by Midgam Project and Statnet, found that 50 percent of the public opposes the idea, 26 percent supports it and 24 percent has no opinion. Channel 2’s poll, conducted by Midgam, produced almost identical results – 52 percent of the public opposed and 24 percent in favor.
Among Zionist Union voters, 60 percent opposed a unity government, while 36 percent supported it.