Pensioners Invited to Merge With Likud - and Say No

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu recently invited the Pensioners Party to merge with Likud, after which some of its MKs would be given reserved spots on Likud's Knesset slate. However, Pensioners chairman Rafi Eitan rejected the offer.

The proposal was meant to torpedo Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni's efforts to form a narrow government, meaning one without Shas or United Torah Judaism, since to do so, she needs the Pensioners. Netanyahu met with Eitan about the idea last week and also spoke with him by telephone.

"Netanyahu met with me and made me offers," Eitan said. "I immediately said no and I didn't want to discuss the matter."

However, most of Netanyahu's efforts to keep Livni from forming a government have been directed at Shas. Thus, when that party finally turned Livni down Friday morning, he breathed a sigh of relief, though he was still not completely easy: He feared that Livni would come back with an even better financial offer that Shas could not refuse.

Netanyahu has been actively courting Shas, promising that it would be the first party to join his government should he win the next election. Kadima officials claim he also promised to restore the child allowances that he himself cut as finance minister in Ariel Sharon's government. MK Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Kadima's negotiating team, told Channel 2's "Meet the Press" program yesterday that Shas officials had told him "'your proposals are irrelevant, because we've received double from Bibi [Netanyahu].' We requested permission to quote that. We've quoted it, and we haven't seen a denial."

Yesterday, a Netanyahu associate responded, "Kadima's spins were more successful in the past."

The new closeness between Likud and Shas is the result of a campaign Netanyahu began waging about a year ago, long before Kadima's leadership primary and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation, in an effort to rebuild his party's historical alliance with Shas. That alliance was shattered during Netanyahu's term as finance minister, when Shas claimed that his policies, and particularly the sharp cuts in child allowances, hurt the poor in general and its constituents in particular. Subsequently, Shas became Olmert's most loyal coalition partner.