Likud MKs: PM Wants Coalition Without Bennett

High-ranking Likud officials claimed over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, are seeking to keep Habayit Hayehudi out of the coalition because of personal issues concerning party chairman Naftali Bennett. One figure, considered a confidant of the prime minister, said that the Netanyahus lost their trust in Bennett - a former chief of staff of Netanyahu - and that Sara "issued a veto" against bringing the party into the ruling coalition.

Neither man has spoken publicly about the personal rift between them. A Netanyahu associate claimed this weekend that Netanyahu believes his former bureau chief leaked information to the media on criminal and governmental investigations of the prime minister in several different cases.

Another highly placed source said Netanyahu does not want Bennett in his coalition because the prime minister wants to renew negotiations with the Palestinians, or at least to give that impression, in order to improve his image in the eyes of the international community.

A Likud cabinet minister, meanwhile, said yesterday that he believed Netanyahu would eventually bring Habayit Hayehudi into his coalition.

Another politician who could find himself in the Netanyahu government despite his rocky relationship with the premier is Shaul Mofaz.

Just a few days after squeaking into the Knesset by the skin of his teeth the Kadima chairman could become the surprise Cinderella of the election, courted by both Likud and Yesh Atid in a bid to boost the negotiating leverage of one of those parties by two Knesset seats. The presumed price to be paid by the winning suitor: a fat job for Mofaz in the next government. Figures in Kadima confirmed that feelers in that direction had already been extended to the party's lower ranking members, but said no concrete offers had been made.

One of the fears stalking Likud is that Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman will make good on his threat to "divorce" Likud within a few weeks' time. Political figures yesterday dismissed the former foreign minister's remarks as his attempt to frighten Netanyahu ahead of the coalition negotiations and squeeze as many appointments as possible for Yisrael Beiteinu members. Nevertheless, Likud officials are fully aware that if their partner bolts they will be left with only 20 MKs, just one more than Yesh Atid. Bringing in Mofaz and Kadima No. 2, MK Yisrael Hasson, would open that gap to three.

Alternatively, Lapid could try to grab Kadima for himself to become the largest single party in the Knesset (assuming the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu joint ticket dissolves ). Similar noises have been made about a possible hookup between Lapid and Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah, which would bring six Knesset seats as a dowry.

Senior Likud officials yesterday did not dismiss these scenarios. But they stressed that with only two Knesset seats Kadima is almost negligible and in any event will not tip the coalition scales in either direction and is therefore not worth whatever high price it might demand.