With the opposition Zionist Union leading polls three days ahead of Israel’s general election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday offered Kulanu party chief Moshe Kahlon the finance minister post.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Netanyahu said Likud could not form a government without Kulanu, and that together the parties could bring down housing prices, as Kahlon did with cellular prices when he was a communications minister in Likud.
Kulanu has been polling between eight and ten seats, and has made economic issues the centerpiece of its campaign.
Netanyahu’s offer came after Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett vowed that he would pledge his party’s seats to Netanyahu after the election results are announced.
Polls showed incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu trailing his center-left rivals. The final two surveys released Friday night by private television channels gave the Zionist Union, headed by Labor leader Isaac Herzog, a four-seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud.
A poll by Channel 10 showed Likud winning 20 seats, compared with 24 for the Zionist Union, while a survey issued by Channel 2 also showed Likud four seats behind, 22 to 26.
The results echoed surveys released earlier Friday — the final day that opinion polls could legally be published before Tuesday’s election — which both predicted a win for the Zionist Union.
But Israel’s complex electoral system, where many parties are vying for power, means the task of forming a new government does not automatically fall to the winning candidate or list.
Israel’s new premier will be the one who can build a coalition commanding a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-strong Knesset.
That task will be all the harder as there are at least 11 party lists to reckon with from across the political spectrum, including ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties.
Under the proportional system, voters choose party lists rather than individual candidates, with seats distributed according to the percentage of the vote received.
Analysts believe the next three days will be crucial, as 20 percent of voters have said they are undecided.
But it could take weeks of negotiations before the name of the new prime minister is known.
Friday’s polls put the Joint List, a newly formed alliance of Israel’s main Arab parties, in third place, with 13 seats and predicted that the centrist Yesh Atid could win 12 seats.
Although consistently trailing in the polls, Netanyahu has come out fighting, and analysts say he may be better placed than Herzog to form a coalition.
‘The prime minister is not telling the truth’
Meanwhile, the war of words between Netanyahu and ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan continued, with Dagan releasing a resignation letter he said was prepared in case Netanyahu ordered a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Responding to charges from Likud that Dagan has been attacking Netanyahu only because the prime minister refused to extend Dagan’s term as head of the Mossad, Dagan told Channel 10 news, “It hurts me that the prime minister is not telling the truth. This is simply not true. I can show you a letter I wrote to the prime minister, that I sent him, and I asked to end my term.”
“I decided that if he attacks Iran, and it is completely within my authority to decide this, I would quit that very instant,” Dagan said.
But Likud sources said that the letter was written and sent two and a half months after Dagan knew his term would not be extended, Haaretz reported.
Earlier this month, Dagan attacked the prime minister at a massive left-wing rally in Tel Aviv, saying, “We have a leader who fights only one campaign — the campaign for his own political survival.”
“In the name of this war, he is dragging us down to a bi-national state and to the end of the Zionist dream,” the former spy chief, 70, said of Netanyahu.
On Friday, the Lod District Court ruled that a Haredi newspaper would have to run at least one advertisement for the ultra-Orthodox women’s party Bezchutan. The Yated Ne’eman newspaper will also have to pay an NIS 10,000 fine to cover the cost of the legal proceedings.
The Bezchutan (In their merit) party was launched in protest against the exclusively male ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
The party is not expected to garner enough votes to win any Knesset seats.
Right-wing rally on Sunday
Campaigning is due to close on Sunday night with a major rally in Tel Aviv by right-wing parties — a week after the center-left mobilized thousands of supporters in the coastal city.
It is not clear if Netanyahu, who is trying to clinch a third consecutive term in office, will attend Sunday’s rally.
But the feisty prime minister has stepped up public appearances in recent days, giving interviews to major newspapers and television channels to push the centerpiece of his campaign: security.
Netanyahu has warned that a win by the Zionist Union — a coalition of Herzog’s Labor party and centrist Hatnuah of former chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians Tzipi Livni — would affect security.
The Zionist Union has said if it wins Herzog and Livni would share the premiership, each serving two years.
Herzog has received endorsement by several prominent figures in Israel, including former president Shimon Peres, who said Thursday he was “level-headed.”
On Friday, Yuval Diskin, a former Shin Bet internal security agency chief, wrote on Facebook that Herzog should become the next premier “because Netanyahu has failed in almost every area.”
Herzog told Channel 2 on Saturday the election was “a choice between despair and hope”.
“The Israeli public is fed up with Netanyahu and knows that I’m the only one who can replace him,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.