MK Shelly Yachimovich
MK Shelly Yachimovich Israel news photo: Flash 90

Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich on Thursday rejected once again the possibility that her party would join Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

Yechimovich said that Netanyahu had phoned her and invited her for a meeting to discuss the possibility of the Labor party joining the government. She indicated that, while she intends to meet with Netanyahu, she will not join his coalition because of the fundamental differences between the two on social issues.

“I told him not that I will not lend a hand to the ongoing crushing of Israeli society in return for seats in the government, and that we're going to be a strong opposition to the difficult economic measures he intends to take,” said Yechimovich.

In terms of renewing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, the Labor leader added that she would support any step Netanyahu makes in this direction “but it will be from the opposition.”

“I told him that I respect his invitation to a meeting, and that I will of course attend, and I stressed that I am not ruling out joining his coalition for personal reasons but because of irreconcilable ideological and political gaps,” said Yechimovich. “The public, I told him, has decided that for now we will lead the opposition, and we respect the verdict of the public.”

During the election campaign, virtually all polls predicted that Labor would be the second largest party in the Knesset, but Yechimovich suffered a blow and will only be the third largest party with 15 seats, losing second place to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Nevertheless, Yechimovich will most likely head the opposition since Lapid has indicated that he intends to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

After the results of the election were made public, Yechimovich called on Lapid not to join Netanyahu and form an obstructive “blocking bloc” to the Likud Beytenu. Lapid, however, was quick to rule that out.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Netanyahu also called Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and invited them to meet and discuss them joining the coalition without preconditions. Netanyahu expressed hope that the two will be part of his government. It has been speculated that Mofaz will probably join, but Livni has not yet made her position on this issue known.

Hatnua, formed by Livni after she lost the Kadima leadership to Mofaz, achieved just six seats. Kadima barely passed the threshold and will have two seats.

Netanyahu also called Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon, who rejected outright any possibility of joining his government. The leftist Meretz will have six seats in the Knesset.

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu also called the heads of hareidi-religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. By early Thursday afternoon, he had already met with Lapid.

Netanyahu also saved his phone call to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett for last. The delay is widely seen as significant, since the order in which negotiations take place with parties determines which party will join the coalition first, and receive the "juiciest" portfolios, and which is "left out to dry."

A coalition with Lapid, Hatnua, Kadima and Bayit Yehudi, without the hareidi parties, would allow Lapid to promote some of the issues he spoke about during his campaign, particularly drafting hareidim into the army. Such a coalition, however, might make it difficult for Netanyahu to get along with U.S. President Barack Obama, because of Bennett’s hard line on Judea and Samaria.

A coalition with Lapid, the hareidi parties, Kadima and Bayit Yehudi would allow Netanyahu to renew the peace process but would likely make it almost impossible for Lapid to legislate a law requiring hareidim to enlist in the army.