Likud sending feelers for potential defectors to join coalition, reports say

The Likud is looking to reach 61 seats with the help of defectors from opposition parties, reports say.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israeli media reported Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party is courting opposition members in a bid to get some former party members to defect and fill a shortfall of two parliamentary seats needed to form a government.

Despite election gains by Likud, interim results showed Netanyahu is two mandates short of the 61 seats needed to form a majority coalition government in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-member parliament.

Blue and White Party members Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser denied media reports they would consider joining Likud.

Both legislators formerly worked for Netanyahu, Hauser as cabinet secretary and Hendel as director of communications in the prime minister’s office. Hendel quit in 2012 after being reprimanded for being the whistle-blower in a sexual harassment scandal.

“There is no way that I would desert and give my backing to Netanyahu who is undermining Israeli society,” Hendel told Ynet, later tweeting the reports were nothing more than a “major rumor” and they have not been approached by Likud.

Blue and White member Omer Yankelevitch was also named, despite not having a history with Likud.

“It’s all rumors. Not going to happen!” Yankelevitch tweeted.

Another suspected Likud target is Gesher Party leader Orly Levi-Abekasis, the number two member of the joint left-wing list of the Labor, Gesher and Meretz parties that won seven seats.

Levi-Abekasis was first elected to the Knesset in 2009 with the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, but bolted the party in 2016 and formed Gesher, linking up last year with Labor and Meretz when polls showed she could not be re-elected on her own.

However, Levi-Abekasis grew up the daughter of former Likud stalwart and deputy prime-minister David Levy, who served for 36 years in the Knesset. Levi-Abekasis “will again be under heavy pressure … to leave the ranks of the shrunken united left-wing party and return home to the right,” Walla News reported.

Official election results will be announced March 8 with changes in the outcome still possible.

Ballots cast by IDF soldiers, prisoners, diplomats, sailors on Israeli flagged ships voters who were under coronavirus quarantine are still to be counted.