Labor’s Peretz and Shmuli on the way to unity government – reports

Israel’s once-venerable center-left party will take just two lawmakers into coalition, with leader and prominent MK said set to receive economy and welfare cabinet posts

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz  at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor party leader Amir Peretz and prominent MK Itzik Shmuli are reportedly set to join the government being negotiated by Likud and Blue and White, which will be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first 18 months.

The two dovish lawmakers are expected to receive the economy and welfare ministerial portfolios, respectively, according to Hebrew media reports.

They would not join as part of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, which ran in the March 2 election and won just seven seats, the reports said. Gesher’s Orli Levy-Abekasis had already split from the parliamentary faction over disagreements on now-defunct plans for Blue and White to form a minority government with the support of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, and Meretz had vowed to uphold a campaign promise not to sit with Netanyahu.

MK Merav Michaeli of the Zionist Union party at the Knesset, November 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Merav Michaeli, the third and last Labor lawmaker elected to the Knesset with the once venerable faction, has said she would not join a government led by Netanyahu.

Amid criticism that his government will give too much power to the center and center-left factions, Netanyahu spoke to his right-wing and religious political allies on Sunday night to reassure them about the coalition talks, calling reports on the distribution of cabinet portfolios “total fake news.”

Meanwhile, a Likud source told The Times of Israel that the current draft of the deal being discussed by Likud and Blue and White negotiators sees parity between the religious-right and center-left blocs, with several concessions being made on both sides.

According to that draft, controversial Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev would be moved from the position to the highly-sought-after Education Ministry. At the same time, former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein would be demoted to a junior ministerial post, while two Likud ministers would be sent off to the US and Russia as ambassadors.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement that the prime minister “made it clear that the preservation of the national camp is more important than ever,” during negotiations with Blue and White on the formation of a national unity government.

“The prime minister has also made it clear to the faction leaders that many media publications on the negotiations, including division of duties, were total fake news,” the statement added.

A flurry of reports on Sunday suggested that the Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which are negotiating in coalition talks with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White as a single bloc, are going to get at least 15 ministries in total in the new government.

According to the reports, the imminent deal would also see the 15-member Blue and White — possibly joined by the four members of Labor and Gesher and by Telem MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, formerly of Blue and White — receive a similar number of cabinet portfolios, meaning almost every MK in Gantz’s party will become a minister.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Netanyahu and Gantz held an all-night meeting into Sunday morning on the terms of a unity government, which they were hoping to finalize later Sunday. A joint statement from the two said they reached “understandings and significant progress” during the talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, without elaborating. Further talks would be held later Sunday with the aim of reaching a signed deal, according to the statement.

The unity talks came after Gantz in a shock move was elected Knesset speaker Thursday, setting the stage for a coalition with Netanyahu and leading to the splintering of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on ousting Netanyahu due to his indictment on graft charges.

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