Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made significant progress in his efforts to bring the center-left Zionist Union into his coalition government, Channel 10 television reported Tuesday.
According to the report, Zionist Union will receive eight ministerial portfolios as part of the agreement. The eight include the Foreign Ministry, which would likely go to party and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, as well as the Culture and Sports Ministry.
Netanyahu has acted as foreign minister since the formation of the government in 2015, and has negotiated intermittently with Herzog on bringing Zionist Union into the government.
The prime minister been consistent and open about his desire to expand his coalition, but in May he aborted negotiations with Herzog and instead cut a deal that led to Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party joining the government and Liberman becoming defense minister. Since then, rumors of a deal to bring the Zionist Union into the 66-seat government have swirled, to the discontent of some opposition MKs.
Herzog was quick to vehemently deny the report Tuesday, as was Zionist Union faction chair Eitan Cabel.
“Herzog completely denies the report and regrets that there are those who spread false information even during the [Jewish] holiday,” his office said.
Cabel wrote on Facebook: “If negotiations did not translate into action last time, from my perspective not only is there is no real reason to be part of the government, it is absolutely forbidden to be part of a government that would be hell for the movement in which I was born and raised.”
Herzog has said repeatedly that the opportunity to join the government passed when Liberman came in, but reports have continued to surface of ongoing 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.
A previous sign that a unity government could be in the offing came last week, when Netanyahu asked some of his ministers whether they would oppose the inclusion of Zionist Union in the coalition.
Only a handful of ministers were present during the weekly cabinet meeting, including Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin were present. According to the Ynet news website, none opposed the expansion of the government.
Both Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing pro-settler Jewish Home party, were absent from the meeting however.