Kahlon cancels coalition talks with Likud amid jostling for posts

Kulanu leader protests Haredi party receiving key financial position ahead of negotiations, as Netanyahu works to build government

Leader of the Kulanu political party Moshe Kahlon, speaks during the Tel Aviv Citizens Empowerment Institute Conference on February 8. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Leader of the Kulanu political party Moshe Kahlon, speaks during the Tel Aviv Citizens Empowerment Institute Conference on February 8. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon canceled a meeting with Likud officials scheduled for Thursday, as negotiations over Kulanu’s role in the next government were set to take place.

Kahlon said he backed out of the meeting to protest Likud handing out key positions before official coalition talks officially began, which would make it more difficult to enact economic reforms, Israel Radio reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party called Kahlon’s move strange and uncalled-for.

A party statement said Israelis expect a speedy coalition-forming process, and negotiations are the forum to discuss any issues that Kahlon might have.

Likud leaders were sitting down with several potential coalition partners Thursday to begin cobbling together a government, a day after President Reuven Rivlin handed Netanyahu the task.

With 10 seats in the new Knesset, Kulanu serves as a potential linchpin of any emerging coalition, which will need the support of a majority of MKs.

On Wednesday night, before negotiations had even begun, Netanyahu had already waded into problematic territory with Kahlon, as the former Likud minister expressed anger over reports that United Torah Judaism would be given control of the Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee.

In a bid to shore up votes for Likud ahead of the election, the prime minister had publicly promised that Kahlon would be the next finance minister no matter the results.

Kahlon, who ran on a social platform, has made it clear that he would only enter the government if he were given adequate power to effect true change in the Israeli economy.

However, after indicating in previous days that he intended to keep his word and give Kahlon the finance ministry, Netanyahu said Wednesday he sought to appoint UTJ’s Moshe Gafni as chairman of the finance committee.

“I’ve heard this evening that rather than take care of the housing problems and lowering the cost of living, someone thinks it is more urgent to divvy up the tools to deal with these issues in a political and illogical way,” Kahlon wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday night.

Kahlon expressed annoyance at reports circulating in the media according to which his party had agreed to forgo any other finance-related demands, calling them “spin.”

MK Moshe Gafni telling the committee there is no chance of drafting the ultra-Orthodox community by force (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Moshe Gafni telling a Knesset committee in October 2012 there is no chance of drafting the ultra-Orthodox community by force. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We haven’t held negotiations with anyone yet, and no one could have agreed to anything on our behalf,” Kahlon wrote.

Haaretz reported Thursday that Netanyahu was also preparing for a fight with Jewish Home over leader Naftali Bennett’s desire to receive the defense, education and religious affairs ministries.

Likud officials told the paper that given their party’s strong showing at the polls of 30 seats compared to Jewish Home’s eight, there was no intention of giving Bennett more than one of those ministries, and it definitely wouldn’t be defense — which Netanyahu would like to retain for Moshe Ya’alon.

“Bennett hasn’t yet internalized the election results,” Likud sources told Haaretz. “We see Bennett as education minister or economy minister with extended powers. He won’t get a better position. On the other hand we are willing to make it up to Bennett and offer his party three portfolios.”

Likud officials also said they believed the number of ministers would have to be raised from the 18 stipulated by current law to 24, in order to accommodate the needs of all six parties that currently seek to share power: Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu.

Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman has also said he would demand the defense portfolio. However, given his poor showing at the polls, garnering only six seats, down from 13 in the previous Knesset, Liberman may have to settle for Netanyahu’s reported proposal that he remain in his current post as foreign minister — a seemingly rather generous offer given the circumstances.

UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman was set to return to his previous post of deputy health minister, though he would be the de facto health minister. The ultra-Orthodox UTJ refuses to take formal cabinet posts in order to not officially recognize the state.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri was likely to receive the Interior Ministry, despite public calls that he not be given a portfolio due to his past criminal conviction, and an online petition against such an appointment that has already received over 30 thousands signatures.

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin formally tasked Netanyahu with forming the coalition, fulfilling his commitment to give the candidate who received the most recommendations for the premiership the first opportunity to build a coalition.

Netanyahu will have until May 7 to present his coalition to the president, with an option to extend talks for another two weeks.

On Thursday, teams from all parties are expected to arrive at the Knesset to negotiate their terms with Netanyahu’s Likud party representatives. Two-hour meetings will be held with every party, in a first round of talks that will continue until a final coalition is formed.

Analysts believe the incoming government will be formed by right-wing and religious parties, some of which oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, and that if Netanyahu bows to international pressure to disengage or evacuate settlements in the West Bank, he could risk a coalition break-up leading to new elections.

Meretz, Yesh Atid, Zionist Union and the Joint (Arab) List are expected to sit in the opposition.

Daniel Bernstein and Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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