PM offers ministries, law changes, even presidency, in frantic bid for majority

Likud negotiators attempt to woo members of opposition Labor and Blue and White parties with astonishing offers, to no avail, as coalition clock ticks down to midnight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Reuven Rivlin in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on April 17, 2019, as Rivlin tasks him with forming a government (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Reuven Rivlin in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on April 17, 2019, as Rivlin tasks him with forming a government (Haim Zach/GPO)

As the clock ticked down toward the midnight deadline, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to be running out of options to build a majority government, his Likud negotiators were revealed to have been offering a desperate array of goodies to unlikely saviors from opposition parties — apparently to no avail.

Minute by minute on Wednesday evening, fresh revelations emerged.

It turned out that Labor’s leader Avi Gabbay had received overtures to join forces with Netanyahu, along with as many of his five fellow Labor MKs as possible, and had seriously weighed the offer before rejecting it.

In return, Gabbay’s Labor was offered various ministries — including the Finance Ministry that Likud has also promised to Moshe Kahlon; he was promised that Netanyahu would abandon his efforts to pass anti-democratic legislation aimed at protecting the prime minister from prosecution; MK Shelly Yachimovich was to be given the Justice Ministry; senior Labor MK Amir Peretz was even reportedly promised the presidency when Reuven Rivlin’s term is over.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party (C), with Labor party parliament members (R-L) Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Shelly Yachimovich at a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Simultaneously, Netanyahu’s negotiators were trying to woo various members of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

Here, the promises included no fewer than five ministries, various ambassadorships, the promise to expedite the immigration to Israel of thousands of Falashmura community members from Ethiopia (to woo Pnina Tamano-Shata, an MK of Ethiopian origin), and to change the controversial nation-state law to benefit the Druze community (to appeal to Gadeer Mreeh, a Druze MK).

Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata speaks at a Knesset committee debate on a bill to remove limits on the number of cabinet ministers that can be appointed by a government, May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With three hours to go, none of these gambits appeared to have worked. The Likud (35 seats) announced that it had finally signed coalition agreements with four parties — United Torah Judaism (8), Shas (8), the Union of Right-Wing Parties (5) and Kulanu (4) — giving it precisely 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Achingly close, but no majority. Kulanu then denied it had signed, saying the agreement was indeed finalized but would only be signed if and when Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party was on board.

Ultra-Orthodox politicians were said to be advising Netanyahu to try to get a 60-strong government sworn in somehow by midnight, hoping for something to go awry in the opposition vote. But Kulanu leader Kahlon shot down that idea by saying he would not serve in a coalition of only 60 members.

Earlier, some ultra-Orthodox politicians were suggesting that perhaps 12 of their two parties’ 16 MKs could agree to vote in favor of the ultra-Orthodox draft bill in its current form — Liberman’s key demand for bringing his five-seat party into the coalition — and thus resolve the crisis. But that idea, too, disappeared as quickly as it had arisen.

As of 9 p.m. therefore, Netanyahu was still short of his majority, and Israel was, unprecedentedly, heading for new elections five months after the last round. But, still, there were three more hours to go. And Netanyahu was, according to a Channel 13 report at 9.10 p.m.,  issuing a final offer to his nemesis Liberman.

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