Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon on Thursday for coalition-building talks.
The two politicians haven’t met since the April 9 election, though Netanyahu has sat down with all the other party leaders he hopes to fold into his coalition, namely Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism, Shas, and the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
Reports have indicated that Netanyahu’s Likud is pushing for Kahlon’s four-seat Kulanu to merge into the party.
If such a merger goes ahead, the move could boost Netanyahu’s battle against corruption allegations. Kahlon had said until recently that he would not support the prime minister remaining in office if he is charged in the three corruption cases over which he is facing indictment pending a hearing. Political analysts said Thursday that Netanyahu would be unlikely to approve a merger with Kahlon if the finance minister was still standing by that position.
Kahlon cut his teeth as a Likud politician, passing popular reforms as communications minister before leaving the party and taking a break from politics amid rumors of tensions with Netanyahu. He founded the Kulanu party in 2015, becoming the most senior partner in the Netanyahu-led government with 10 seats.
If he enters the new coalition, Kulanu’s four seats will make it the smallest party in the government. Despite the poorer showing, Kahlon is insisting on keeping the Finance Ministry for himself and having MK Eli Cohen stay on as economy minister.
The demands of Kulanu, which has focused on economic issues, are thought to pale in comparison to tougher negotiations expected with the other likely coalition partners.
Earlier on Sunday, negotiators for Yisrael Beytenu and Likud met for the first round of coalition negotiations, with the former presenting a list of demands on security, immigration, and religion and state issues.
The sides failed to come to any agreement and said they would meet again at a later date.
The most thorny issue is expected to be legislation regulating — and limiting — exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students, which the secularist Liberman is insisting should be passed without amendment, while ultra-Orthodox parties have said they will not join the coalition if it is advanced without changes.
Both Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox are essential for Netanyahu if he is to assemble a governing coalition with a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Liberman has backed Netanyahu as the next premier, cementing the right-wing coalition at 65 seats. But his party holds five of those seats, just enough to bring Netanyahu to the brink of collapse if he leaves the coalition — as he did in November in a spat over what he said were disagreements with the prime minister’s Gaza policy, shrinking Netanyahu’s coalition at the time to just 61 seats.
The Union of Right-Wing Parties is demanding the justice and education portfolios, as well as wide ranging legislative concessions.
The religious parties announced Sunday they would not hold coalition talks during the Passover holiday, pushing off negotiations until next week.
Netanyahu has until mid-May, and possible several weeks longer, to assemble a coalition, after President Reuven Rivlin tasked him with forming a government on Wednesday.