Netanyahu Polls His Coalition Partners: Who's for Adding Herzog?

Netanyahu prodded to respond to rumors that a unity government deal with the largest opposition party is drawing near. Minister voiced no disapproval.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arriving to attend his weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arriving to attend his weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016.Credit: Atef Safadi/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu polled his coalition partners about the prospect of opposition head Isaac Herzog and his Zionist Union joining the coalition at the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The incident was reminiscent of a similar scene four months ago in the same forum, when the prime minister asked his partners if they supported Avigdor Lieberman joining the government. Three days later, Yisrael Beiteinu opened coalition negotiations with the Likud party, which ended with the appointment of LIberman as Defense Minister and the departure of Moshe Ya'alon from the position.

The cabinet was sparsely attended, with only Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Interior Minister Aryeh Dery (Shas), Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) and Degel HaTorah chairman Moshe Gafni, the head of the Knesset Finance Committee, attending. No one reportedly expressed objections.

Netanyahu's question arose after a heated exchange among the few ministers present. Kahlon expressed anger at objections recently raised by Likud ministers to the plan to tax third apartments. Netanyahu supported Kahlon, saying, "A coalition to display loyalty and collegiality.

Litzman responded, "If you demand collegiality and loyalty from us, perhaps you should report to us what's happening between you and Herzog. Litzman's comments were based on rumors that circulated on Monday among politicians that a unity government deal was nearing. Herzog's office vehemently denied the rumors.

Haaretz has learned that before Netanyahu departed for the UN General Assembly in New York, his people were in contact with Herzog and his team, but that the contact has not been renewed since his return.

Despite Netanyahu's comments on Tuesday, the prevalent opinion among the political echelons is that without a diplomatic breakthrough – such as the holding of a regional conference – Herzog will be hard pressed to bring in at least a third of his party, which numbers 24 MKs. Sources involved in the talks assert that both Netanyahu and Herzog are interested in a deal, but the conditions have not come to fruition.

Three explanations are given for Netanyahu's interest in expanding the coalition. First, it would temper the turmoil liable to grip the coalition should Israel demolish the illegal outpost of Amona and evacuate the 40 families living there. Second, Netanyahu desires to send a message to the international community and the Arab states that he is serious about advancing the peace process. Third, he is counting on Hillary Clinton to be elected President of the United States, who remains the more popular candidate after the latest debate.

The person who raised the issue of expanding the coalition was one of the party leaders who asked for the prime minister's opinion about it, the Likud Party commented. Prime Minister Netanyahu responded, "What do you think about the matter?"

The Prime Minister stressed that he always wanted to expand the coalition but to no avail so far, the Likud noted. In any event, the party added, any additional government expansion will be made with all the current coalition members.

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