'Four to six' MKs 'from the other side' being wooed

Likud says talks underway with center-left ‘deserters’ to boost bloc to 61 seats

Gesher MK Orly Levy-Abekasis rejects speculation she could jump ship, as do Blue and White’s Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel

Likud MK and chairman of the Knesset Regulatory Committee Miki Zohar at the Knesset, September 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Likud MK and chairman of the Knesset Regulatory Committee Miki Zohar at the Knesset, September 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

With exit polls and a partial vote count following Monday’s elections showing the Likud party strengthened but falling short of the 61 seats required to form a Knesset majority, Likud MKs and a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they would be looking to bring in “deserters” from other parties to make up the shortfall.

“We are talking with more than one or two MKs from the center-left,” said MK Miki Zohar, who chairs the Likud Knesset faction. “I believe that if we [the right-wing bloc] reach 60 votes we will form a government,” he told Radio 103 FM.

Exit polls showed the right-wing bloc taking 59 Knesset seats, a prediction shored up by a count of 90 percent of the votes by late Tuesday morning.

Likud spokesman Yonatan Urich told Channel 13 of contacts with “four to six” MKs from “the other side” and predicted that Netanyahu would be able to form a majority coalition with the support of some of them “within a few days.”

Zohar admitted that if Likud was left needing to bring more than two turncoats from other parties, it would be far more difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition; however, he said he remained confident of forming a government in that scenario and preventing a fourth round of elections.

“It will be much more complex,” he said, “but I believe it will happen relatively quickly because our bloc is hermetic and no one can be moved away.”

Zohar refused to name any names. “All I can say is that there are more than one or two options. At the end of the day, whoever decides to prevent a fourth round of elections and take part in forming a government will not be seen as a traitor.”

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu spokesman Jonatan Urich said negotiations were already ongoing to form a government.

“We will take deserters from the other side,” Urich said unequivocally.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has been tipped as a possibility to jump ship in return for a cabinet portfolio.

Levy-Abekasis sparked speculation about her future when she tweeted in the wake of the exit poll results that she “hopes to wake up tomorrow to a new era of action.” She removed the post a short time later, after journalists asked if it signaled an openness to splitting off and joining a right-wing coalition in order to give it a majority.

“Nothing has changed, we’re continuing on our path,” a statement from her spokesperson said.

There have also been reports that Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, both former aides to Netanyahu and members of the Telem faction within Blue and White, were considering options to switch to Likud.

However, speaking to the Times of Israel, both Hauser and Hendel both denied they would consider any such move to help Netanyahu form a government.

“It’s complete rubbish. There is no truth to it whatsoever,” Hauser said. “We are a union of three parties [making up Blue and White] that ran as a unit to present an alternative [to Likud]. We will continue to do that.”

“There is no such possibility and it will not happen,” Hendel, speaking separately from Hauser, said of the idea.

Raoul Wootlif contributed to this report

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