Likud ready to overpay to bring Livni into coalition
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is prepared to make a substantial offer to bring The Tzipi Livni Party into his coalition as a senior partner if negotiations with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid do not bear fruit, senior Likud sources said following talks with Livni’s associates on Monday.
When Netanyahu formed his coalition in 2009, he held direct talks that did not bear fruit with Livni on bringing Kadima’s 28 MKs into the coalition. The portfolios Netanyahu intended to give Kadima instead went to Labor, which had 13 MKs, and remained with the Independence Party when it broke off, even though it had only five.
“We understand that in a situation where Lapid does not join, the price we will have to pay to enable Livni joining the coalition will be relatively high,” a senior Likud official said.
The talk of overpaying Livni to enter the coalition despite her faction having only six MKs came after Yesh Atid issued demands that Likud officials called unrealistic.
Likud sources said a likely scenario would be a 69-MK coalition with the Tzipi Livni Party, Kadima, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, and United Torah Judaism.
A Likud MK suggested that “it might be better to have Livni on her knees than Lapid on a horse.”
The MK said Lapid might speak more modestly and lower his price after “a year of drought in the desert of the opposition.”
Channel 2 reported Monday night that Netanyahu and his No. 2 on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list, Avigdor Liberman, had maintained a direct connection with Livni since the January 22 election. The report said Netanyahu’s recent statements on diplomatic issues were aimed at enticing Livni into the coalition.
An official response by Livni’s spokeswoman called the report “rumors and political spin” and said there were direct connections since the election with leaders of many parties, not just Netanyahu.
Livni’s associates expressed concern that Netanyahu might have leaked the report in order to use Livni to lower the price of Lapid.
“For Tzipi, what matters is the essence of whether she will be given true freedom to advance the diplomatic process,” a source close to her said. “She has one issue, unlike Lapid who has many, but she won’t join the government unless she deems Netanyahu’s intentions on the peace process to be truly genuine. It’s too soon to say concretely that Netanyahu is more serious than before. Maybe it’s just camouflage and pyrotechnics.”
Representatives of The Tzipi Livni Party came to Ramat Gan’s Kfar Hamaccabiah for coalition talks on Monday. A source on Livni’s negotiating team said after the meeting that they had an impression that Likud had a problem with Lapid and therefore would have to make gestures to Livni not on portfolios but on diplomatic progress and letting her lead peace talks with the Palestinians.
One way of proving Netanyahu’s intentions could be in announcing steps toward the Palestinians when US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Israel in two weeks, or when the prime minister is expected to go to Washington in the first week of March.
A senior party source explained that, with only six seats, Livni’s party must keep promises based on its central issue, or it will die in the next election.
When asked whether this means the party is demanding Livni be foreign minister, her party’s chief negotiator, former Prime Minister’s Office director- general Yossi Kucik said they are not discussing portfolios yet.
“We won’t be a fig leaf for a rightwing coalition,” Kucik added.
Likud Beytenu negotiations team leader attorney David Shimron summed up two days of negotiations on Monday evening by saying he was instructed by Netanyahu to build the widest coalition possible.
“There are many ways to do this, and we will work on it in the coming days,” Shimron stated. “There are gaps, and we will work [to bridge them].”
Likud Beytenu representatives also met Monday teams from Kadima and United Torah Judaism.
Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson described the talks and the Likud Beytenu team as “pleasant,” and said Kadima’s position is essentially the same as it was when it joined the coalition last May, with an emphasis on equality in the burden of service and electoral reform.
UTJ leaders Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni expressed optimism on their way out of talks.
“It was a good talk,” Gafni said.
“We were in the coalition with [Likud Beytenu] for four years, so we feel at home,” adding that it is hard to know what will happen as talks continue.
“We’re loyal coalition partners who don’t make problems, which is why we expect Likud Beytenu to deal with issues that are hard for them, in order to keep us,” Litzman added, in reference to issues of haredi enlistment.
A Bayit Yehudi official denied reports that his party had formed a bloc with Yesh Atid and would enter the coalition or opposition together.
A source close to MK Uri Ariel, who is leading the Bayit Yehudi negotiating team, also called the report an exaggeration, saying, “We’re not going to the opposition just because Lapid doesn’t get what he wants.”
Still, the source said that the two parties coordinated stances on issues like lowering the number of ministers in the government, what should be cut in the upcoming budget and decreasing the defecit. In addition, the source explained, both sides hope to see more haredim enlist in the IDF or do national service, but have different ideas about how to go about it.
Ariel met with UTJ MK Meir Porush Monday night.
No coalition talks are set for Tuesday, due to the swearing-in ceremony for the 19th Knesset, which will take place Tuesday afternoon. But informal talks will take place among the leaders of all the parties, including a meeting between Netanyahu and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich.
Netanyahu called the heads of Arab factions Monday and told them that even though none of them would join the coalition, he still intended to help their constituencies.
Hadash party leader MK Muhammad Barakei said he was not impressed by the call.
“In light of the Hadash party’s political, economic and social standing, we represent a political position opposite that of the government, and will therefore act as an actively fighting opposition,” Barakei said on the party’s website.