Opposition MK Yaakov Katz, the leader of the National Union, says his party is still likely to join the coalition – if Prime Minister Netanyahu stands by his promises.

Making a 73-minute video appearance on Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew internet site, Katz explained what happened from the moment the election results were known until now. In a nutshell: Netanyahu promised to include all those who recommended him to the President, sent his representatives to conclude a coalition agreement between the Likud and the National Union - but as soon as Labor agreed to join, everything was put on hold.

“Even now,” Ketzaleh said, “Netanyahu's people call me almost every day to say, ‘It’s just a matter of a day or two, and the agreement will be signed and you’ll be in the government.' We’re still waiting.”

Ketzaleh said that shortly after the elections, Netanyahu called him and met with him before the National Union was to speak with President Peres. This was during the period of time when Peres was meeting with all the parties, in order to hear their recommendations regarding who should be chosen to form the government. Kadima had 28 Knesset seats, but Netanyahu of the Likud, with only 27 seats, was still considered to have better chances of forming a government - and he needed the recommendations of the nationalist parties in order to prove this.

Netanyahu: I'm Not the Same Bibi, You Can Trust Me

“Netanyahu met with me,” Ketzaleh said, “and I told him we would recommend him. Still, he called me again just an hour or two before I was to meet with Peres, to make sure that I would recommend him. He promised repeatedly, and in front of several people, that the parties that recommended him would certainly be included in the coalition, even if Kadima or Labor later joined.

"I told him that we would recommend him even without his promises, because that’s what our voters want and expect. He said, ‘I hear in your voice that you don’t trust me. I’m telling you that things are now different; I’m not the same Bibi; you can trust me: You will certainly be in our government.’ He said this over and over. I answered, ‘I can only believe my own promises. As for yours, your actions will determine whether you can be trusted.’ And here we see what happened.

“I met with MK Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud, and [Likud negotiator] Natan Eshel, and we finalized the agreement down to the last detail. We even agreed what ministerial portfolio I would receive, as well as the budget allocations to Judea and Samaria. But it was as if he was just trying to keep eye contact with us, keeping us on a leash, while he continued to talk with [Labor Party chairman Ehud] Barak.”

Barak apparently demanded that the National Union be kept out of the coalition, but Netanyahu did not promise to do so - "at least not in writing,” Ketzaleh said. “I can tell you that no one seems to believe that we are definitely out, because a Labor member recently gave an interview in which he listed two things that Labor had already accomplished by joining the government: Kicking out former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, and the fact that the National Union was ‘still’ not in the government.

"The word ‘still’ implies that the game is not over yet. Possibly Netanyahu is waiting to see if Barak will continue not to supply the goods; only 7 or 8 of his 13 MKs are actively supporting the government."

Netanyahu Added Insult to Injury

“Not only has Netanyahu not kept his word,” Ketzaleh emphasized, “but he has added insult to injury by causing the blame for the apparent failure of the negotiations to be placed on us – most people think it's our fault - when the fact is that we have already come to an agreement, and it is just waiting to be signed by the Likud.”

Arutz Sheva: What demands did the National Union have regarding Judea and Samaria?

Ketzaleh: “We spoke to Netanyahu about the draconian rules that accompany any housing construction in Judea and Samaria. At present, eight – eight! – signatures are needed for the process, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has to add his own signature on every single stage. This is an impossible process, and totally discriminatory against Jews. Nowhere else in Israel is this necessary.

"Yet Netanyahu refused, contrary to what he promised during the election campaign, to agree in writing to any changes in this process [all coalition agreements must be made public – ed.], but merely said, ‘Trust me, trust me.’ Sure – we should trust him, with Labor and Barak still in the Defense Ministry. But still – we were able to solve even this difficult problem in the coalition negotiations by having an appended letter in which we state our position.”

Negev and Galilee

Asked what ministerial portfolio is left for him, Ketzaleh said, “I have been made to understand that the Negev and Galilee Development portfolio is being held by the Likud’s Silvan Shalom merely as a deposit, and that it will include budgeting for settling Judea and Samaria as well.”

Asked if his insistence on the Housing Ministry might have caused a breakdown in the talks, Ketzaleh said, “First of all, our demand for Housing was very legitimate. I served as top aide to Ariel Sharon when he was Housing Minister, and together we built 60,000 units in Judea and Samaria, and I was in fact planning to return to this Ministry and continue this important work. However, it was promised to Shas, which truly was very loyal to Netanyahu.”

Against Shas

Ketzaleh had harsh words for Shas and its leader Eli Yishai: “We wanted to form a religious bloc with Shas and the other religious parties. I told Yishai that we could be [a very large] bloc in the Knesset, and we would be able to accomplish great things.

"But in typical fashion, he chose the path of what was best for Shas, and refused to work together with us. I believe that Shas worked so hard to bring Labor into the government simply because they knew that Barak would insist that we not be allowed in, and this would leave them [Shas] as the only [significant] religious party.

"I am very disappointed that many religious-Zionist voters voted for Shas, which has brought about many terrible things. For one thing, they enabled the first Oslo agreement to go through, which led to 1,500 deaths. Secondly, many terrorist murderers have been released from Israeli prison, because whenever the matter comes up, Yishai declares, ‘The Jewish security prisoners must also be released’ – thus giving his approval for the release of the Arab terrorists, while nothing happens with the Jewish security prisoners – but he’s happy because he was able to take the populist position of demanding that the Jews be released.”

“They behave the same with Judea and Samaria,” Ketzaleh continued. “Shas takes a very strong stand on Jerusalem - implying that the rest of Judea and Samaria can be abandoned. Shas keeps screaming about how important it is to keep Jerusalem undivided, but what about Maaleh Adumim? and Beit El? and Ariel? and all the rest of the 350,000 Jews here – Shas doesn't care about them?”

Interviews on a Limited Basis

Ketzaleh was critical of the right-wing media: “Makor Rishon repeatedly had polls showing that we would not pass the minimum threshold. In fact, when I asked Prof. Katz how is it that his polls always show us lower than the other surveys, he told me, ‘You’re not the one paying me.’… In addition, Amit Segal of Channel Two, even though he grew up here in Ofra, consistently ridiculed our chances… Now, if something happens in Amona [an outgrowth of Ofra], or somewhere else nearby, he can go for help to those parties that he recommended…”

Ketzaleh said he would not agree to be interviewed by the above two media elements, “though we have others, like [MKs] Aryeh Eldad and Uri Ariel, who don’t mind, and they can do a fine job.”

MK Katz had nothing to do with the failure of the two religious-Zionist parties to unite, as he entered the political scene after that failure had already occurred.  He said that though it is important to turn to the right-wing secular camp, "the fact is that most secular voters will not vote for us. What we have to do is to unite among ourselves.  The religious-Zionist camp must unite, and I have a very good relationship with Jewish Home leader Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, and with MK Uri Orbach, and with [former MK] Nissan [Slomiansky], and with other people of vision in the Jewish Home, and I believe that with a little more openness, and a little more ideology, and a little less sharpness, we can do it. It's the charge of the hour, so that in the next elections we can have 12 or more Knesset Members."