Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked some of his ministers Tuesday whether they’d oppose the inclusion of the Zionist Union in a unity government.
Sources close to opposition leader Isaac Herzog told Ynet that there were no recent developments and that the Zionist Union party leader hadn’t spoken with them in recent days.
Only a handful of ministers were present during the weekly cabinet meeting, held Tuesday instead of Sunday to accommodate Netanyahu’s return from the United States. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin were present, and none of them opposed bringing the Zionist Union into the government, Ynet reported.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the leaders, respectively, of the Jewish Home party and Yisrael Beytenu, were absent from the meeting.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu posed the question to coalition party leaders after Kahlon protested opposition by Likud lawmakers to his plan to raise taxes on owners of more than three apartments. Netanyahu backed him up, saying “a coalition needs to run on the basis of loyalty and collegiality.”
Litzman chimed in, saying that if that’s what’s expected, the prime minister should inform the ministers of what’s happening with Herzog — referring to rumors that the two sides were close to reaching a deal to bring the Zionist Union’s 24 seats into the government.
A Likud party source said that it was another minister who raised the issue, only after which Netanyahu asked those present if they’d oppose it.
Netanyahu has consistently said that he seeks to expand his coalition, but in May he aborted negotiations with Herzog and instead cut a deal under which Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party joined the government and Liberman was appointed minister of defense. Since then, rumors of a deal to bring the Zionist Union into Netanyahu the 67-seat government have swirled, to the discontent of opposition MKs.
Herzog has repeatedly said the opportunity to join the government passed when Liberman came in, but has repeatedly been reported to be engaged in further talks with Netanyahu. It is far from clear that the entire 24-strong Zionist Union Knesset faction — numerous members of which have castigated Herzog for contemplating partnering with Netanyahu — would enter the coalition even if Herzog were to agree to do so.