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PM turns to Livni after Herzog rebuffs fresh coalition talks

Likud sources say sights set on Zionist Union No. 2, in hopes she will find an offer more palatable and sway rest of party

Zionist Union party co-founders, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, during a party  meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union party co-founders, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, during a party meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After coalition talks between the ruling Likud party and the head of the Zionist Union party led by Isaac Herzog failed earlier this month, the government has now reportedly turned its gaze on the party’s number two — MK Tzipi Livni, the head of the junior Hatnua faction.

According to a senior member of the coalition cited by Haaretz, efforts to have the 24-seat Zionist Union join the coalition have been renewed, with those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now pressuring Livni, a strong opponent of the talks with Herzog, to acquiesce.

The unnamed source told Haaretz that Netanyahu associates believe that if Livni finds the terms of a potential deal favorable, that should pave the way for the Zionist Union to join the coalition.

According to a Likud source cited in the report, party representatives even considered offering Livni the Foreign Ministry in exchange for having her five-seat Hatnua faction enter the coalition alone, but that plan was scrapped.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Tzipi Livni during a plenum session in the Knesset in June 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Tzipi Livni during a plenum session in the Knesset in June 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Sources in the Likud and the Zionist Union have indicated, according to Haaretz, that the exit of the right-wing Jewish Home party from the coalition would help sweeten the deal for the Zionist Union and its ability to sell it to its constituents.

Another element that could help push the deal with Zionist Union members, the report said, is receiving the Justice Ministry, a portfolio Netanyahu has indicated would remain with the Likud should the eight-seat Jewish Home leave the coalition. Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked currently serves as justice minister, a post previously held by Livni.

Livni was justice minister twice in her political career, once under then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2006-2007 and again in 2013-2014 under Netanyahu.

According to the report, the education and agriculture ministries — both now headed by Jewish Home politicians — were up for grabs, as was the Economy and Industry Ministry, a portfolio currently held by Netanyahu.

The Jewish Home party, according to the report, could sense something foul, with party sources telling Haaretz that Netanyahu was “plotting to oust the Jewish Home from the coalition and eager to bring in the Zionist Union.”

After talks between Likud and Zionist Union representatives broke down last month, Netanyahu has repeatedly called on the Zionist Union to join the coalition. He has refused to appoint full-time ministers to the ministries of economy, foreign affairs, communications and regional cooperation in order, he said, to entice Zionist Union to join the government.

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who head the Kulanu party, called on Herzog to bring his own party into the government to advance a possible regional peace initiative, a call the Zionist Union rebuffed on Thursday.

“Likud and Kahlon can forget about us giving legitimacy to the bad path the Netanyahu government and its natural allies are on,” read a statement from the largest opposition party.

“We oppose this path and we will not join this coalition,” it went on.

Speaking at an event in Netanya on Wednesday, Kahlon said that there was a substantive effort underway to launch a regional peace initiative between Israel and several Arab neighbors, and called on Herzog to become a partner to the endeavor.

“The rumors and talk of a significant diplomatic move in the region are far more substantial than mere hints in newspapers,” the Kulanu party leader said.

“I call on the Zionist Union to join the government and not to miss the historic window of opportunity that has been created,” he added. “This is not the time or place to offer details, but we have a rare opportunity for a dramatic shift at the regional level.”

Herzog had already dismissed Kahlon’s call by Wednesday evening, saying a statement to the press that he “has already told Kahlon what he had to say on Monday in a clear and loud voice.”

The statement apparently referred to Herzog’s speech in the Knesset in which he called on Kahlon “to dare to pay the heavy price for your inner truth” and take his Kulanu party out of the coalition, which would topple Netanyahu’s government.

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