Negotiations between representatives of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) for the latter’s National Union party to join the government failed because Netanyahu refused to promise to build in Jerusalem. So reports Haaretz this morning.
The negotiations included only three of the National Union’s four Knesset Members; the ideological chasm between MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, a follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane of Kach, and Netanyahu are apparently too great to be bridged at present.
The intention was to give Ketzaleh either the position of Minister of Welfare or Minister of the Negev and the Galilee, both of which are being held “temporarily” by Likud ministers. However, Netanyahu refused to declare that he would build expansively in Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim – a long-time demand of the National Union – and the negotiations broke down.
Katz is currently abroad and has been unavailable for comment.
Netanyahu’s coalition shrank last month from 74 MKs to 66 when eight Labor Party MKs quit following Ehud Barak’s defection from the party and his formation of a new faction. This leaves the Prime Minister in the uncomfortable position of being subject to the mercy of either Israel Our Home (15 MKs) or Shas (11); if either of them were to quit, the coalition would fall.
Other members of the coalition are United Torah Judaism (5) and Jewish Home (3). The coalition also comprises the Likud’s 27 MKs, and the five of Barak’s Independence faction.
Unilateral Withdrawal on the Horizon?
It has been widely reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to announce, within three months, a new diplomatic initiative. This, in response to the popular international conception that Israel is to blame for the long-standing stalemate with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu himself has not finalized his plans, but they are expected to include a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley even without annexing it, and international forces to help the PA contain arms smuggling.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and others have accused Netanyahu of planning to announce a unilateral withdrawal from additional areas of Judea and Samaria.
Netanyahu has been invited to speak before both houses of the U.S. Congress at the end of May, at which opportunity he is expected to announce his new program.