Likud MK says Netanyahu mulled forming coalition with Arab parties
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Likud MK says Netanyahu mulled forming coalition with Arab parties

Miki Zohar says PM ultimately rejected reaching out to Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al, as he scrambled to cobble together government; parties deny claim

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of the Joint (Arab) List party to discuss enlarging the budgets for Arab towns in Israel, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on August 31, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of the Joint (Arab) List party to discuss enlarging the budgets for Arab towns in Israel, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on August 31, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A Likud ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on Sunday that in its final attempts to cobble together a coalition and prevent a second round of elections, the premier’s party weighed the possibility of a coalition with support from the Arab Israeli parties, which would agree to prevent it from toppling.

The comment, which was quickly dismissed by a party spokesperson, would represent a shocking 180-degree turn for the right wing party which has not only publicly rejected forming a coalition with Arab parties, but also campaigned on accusations that its rivals planned on breaking bread with them.

“The prime minister could have formed a government by means of covert support from the Arab parties where they would not have voted against the establishment of our coalition. [The Arab parties] would have been happy to allow it if we were to meet their demands,” Likud MK Miki Zohar told Army Radio.

Zohar said that while the offer had been considered, it was ultimately rejected by Netanyahu himself. “He was only willing to form a government with the support of Jewish Zionist parties.”

The possibility was ostensibly considered during the 11th hour as Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman was holding out on joining Netanyahu’s coalition, due to disagreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties regarding legislation regulating exemptions from military service for yeshiva students.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu also offered Labor chairman Avi Gabbay a series of ministerial portfolios and reported promises to refrain from legislating himself immunity from prosecution in exchange for the latter party’s entry into the coalition.

Hadash-Ta’al MK Ofer Cassif rejected Zohar’s account outright, saying “We have never supported and will not support an extreme right-wing government. This is just a crude lie.”

A Ra’am-Balad spokesman similarly said he had not been aware of such an offer.

Hours later the Likud issued a statement of its own similarly distancing itself from Zohar’s remarks: “There was no coordination with the Arab parties whatsoever.”

The revelation from Zohar came at the backdrop of a pair of op-eds written by Natan Eshel over the past week, in which the Netanyahu confidante responsible for representing the Likud in the unsuccessful coalition negotiations called on the right to build a bridge of cooperation with the Arab parties that can benefit both sides.

In editorials published by the left-wing Haaretz daily and the national religious Makor Rishon weekly, Eshel claimed that rather than focusing on national issues, a new relationship between the right-wing bloc and the Arab parties could be based on the three issues that the majority of Arab Israelis care most about: economics, education and public security.

“Around this common denominator, we must build a common life and put aside issues that have no solution in the foreseeable future,” Eshel wrote.

Critics dismissed the op-eds as irrelevant given the Netanyahu confidante’s failure to acknowledge the premier’s own efforts to deligitimize the Arab Israeli public in successive election campaigns.

Netanyahu had spent much of the previous election campaign berating his rivals in the Blue and White party for allegedly considering a partnership with Arab parties.

“[Blue and White leaders Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz rely on… the Arab parties that not only do not recognize the State of Israel and act to destroy the State of Israel,” Netanyahu claimed more than once on the campaign trail without any proof.

Separately last week, the four political parties representing Israel’s Arab minority announced that they will reunite for the upcoming Knesset elections.

After their disappointing showing in the April elections, when they won 10 seats between them, the move looks to boost turnout and improve Arab representation in Israel’s parliament. The four parties, Balad, Ra’am, Ta’al and Hadash first united in 2015 to become the Joint List, earning 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

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